Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Herbert goes to war

Albania’s Greatest Friend: Aubrey Herbert and the Making of Modern Albania is being published today (at least according to Amazon’s website) by I B Tauris, a leading publisher of non-fiction books on history, politics and international relations. The book is based on the diaries and papers of Aubrey Herbert, a young aristocrat - said to be the inspiration for Sandy Arbuthnut, the fictional hero created by John Buchan - who travelled extensively to Albania before the First World War, and did much to help it become an independent nation. Some of Herbert’s First World War diaries are freely available online.

Herbert was born at Highclere, near Newbury, Berkshire, in 1880. He was the second son of the 4th Earl of Carnarvon, a landowner, British cabinet minister and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. After being schooled at Eton and studying history at Balliol College, Oxford, he became an (unpaid) honorary attaché in the diplomatic service, firstly in Tokyo and then in Constantinople. Subsequently, he travelled extensively, mostly in the Turkish provinces, learning to speak half a dozen languages. In particular he became a passionate advocate of Albanian independence, visiting the country many times.

In 1910, Herbert married Mary Vesey, daughter of Viscount de Vesci, and they would have four children, the youngest of whom married Eveyln Waugh. In 1911, Herbert became a Conservative Member of Parliament for the Yeovil Division of Somerset, a constituency which he held till his death. With the outbreak of the First World War, Herbert, despite poor eyesight, obtained a commission in the Irish Guards. He was wounded and taken prisoner in France, but escaped. Subsequently, he worked for military intelligence, involved in the Gallipoli Campaign, among others, and in negotiations with the Turks. In the last months of the war he was head of the English Mission attached to the Italian Army in Albania, and held the temporary rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.

Herbert was twice offered, unofficially, the throne of Albania, once before the war when he declined, and once after, when circumstances conspired against him. However, his efforts are considered to have helped Albania become an independent nation in 1913, and to its becoming a member of the League of Nations in 1920. He died young, from blood poisoning after a dental operation in 1923. Further biographical information is available at Wikipedia and a website about Exmoor National Park. It is widely assumed, says Wikipedia, that Herbert was the inspiration for the character Sandy Arbuthnot, a hero in several John Buchan novels.

While abroad, Herbert was an inveterate diary keeper, and some of his diary material has recently been collated and edited by Bejtullah Destani and Jason Tomes for Albania’s Greatest Friend: Aubrey Herbert and the Making of Modern Albania: Diaries and Papers 1904-1923. The book - which according to Amazon is due out today - is being published by I B Tauris.

Here is Tauris’s publicity for the book: ‘Impeccably aristocratic and eccentric in a uniquely English tradition, Aubrey Herbert was at first sight an incongruous champion of Albanian nationalism, to say the least. Tall, slender and slightly stooped, with a moustache and heavily lidded eyes, Herbert wore a monocle and had white patches in his hair caused by an attack of alopoecia in 1911. Within England - let alone abroad - he cut a colourful figure.

But Herbert was also an acclaimed linguist, intrepid traveller and an outspoken and independent thinker, who became enthralled by the Balkans on his first visit to the region in 1904 as honorary attache at the British Embassy in Constantinople. From that time until his death in 1923, he was indefatigable in campaigning for the Albanian cause. He returned frequently to the country and gained respect as an expert on the region, even being honoured with repeated requests that he assume the Albanian throne. Albania’s Greatest Friend charts Herbert’s involvement with Albania over the course of his life, in his own words, through his own extensive diaries and letters.

It paints an authoritative portrait not just of a remarkable Englishman but also sheds fresh light on the wider Albanian national movement and a fascinating period in European history.’

As early as 1919, though, Herbert had published Mons, Anzac & Kut (Hutchinson & Co) based on, and quoting from, his diaries, with an introduction by Desmond MacCarthy, a literary critic working for the New Statesman. The full text of this book is available online at the Great War Primary Documents Archive.

Here is Herbert’s own preface:

‘Journals, in the eyes of their author, usually require an introduction of some kind, which, often, may be conveniently forgotten. The reader is invited to turn to this one if, after persevering through the pages of the diary, he wishes to learn the reason of the abrupt changes and chances of war that befell the writer. They are explained by the fact that his eyesight did not allow him to pass the necessary medical tests. He was able, through some slight skill, to evade these obstacles in the first stage of the war; later, when England had settled down to routine, they defeated him, as far as the Western Front was concerned. He was fortunately compensated for this disadvantage by a certain knowledge of the East, that sent him in various capacities to different fronts, often at critical times. It was as an Interpreter that the writer went to France. After a brief imprisonment, it was as an Intelligence Officer that he went to Egypt, the Dardanelles and Mesopotamia.

The first diary was dictated in hospital from memory and rough notes made on the Retreat from Mons. For the writing of the second diary, idle hours were provided in the Dardanelles between times of furious action. The third diary, which deals with the fall of Kut, was written on the Fly boats of the River Tigris. [. . .]

This diary claims to be no more than a record of great and small events, a chronicle of events within certain limited horizons - a retreat, a siege and an attack. Writing was often hurried and difficult, and the diary was sometimes neglected for a period. If inaccuracies occur, the writer offers sincere apologies.’

And here are a few diary extracts, culled from the text in Mons, Anzac & Kut.

23 April 1915
‘I have just seen the most wonderful procession of ships I shall ever see. In the afternoon we left for the outer harbour. The wind was blowing; there was foam upon the sea and the air of the island was sparkling. With the band playing and flags flying, we steamed past the rest of the fleet. Cheers went from one end of the harbour to the other. Spring and summer met. Everybody felt it more than anything that had gone before.

After we had passed the fleet, the pageant of the fleet passed us. First the Queen Elizabeth, immense, beautiful lines, long, like a snake, straight as an arrow. This time there was silence. It was grim and very beautiful. We would rather have had the music and the cheers . . . This morning instructions were given to the officers and landing arrangements made. We leave at 1.30 to-night. The Australians are to land first. This they should do to-night. Then we land. . . Naval guns will have to cover our advance, and the men are to warned that the naval fire is very accurate. They will need some reassuring if the fire is just over their heads. The 29th land at Helles, the French in Asia near Troy. This is curious, as they can't support us or we them. the Naval Division goes north and makes a demonstration . . . The general opinion is that very many boats must be sunk from the shore. Having got ashore, we go on to a rendezvous. We have no native guides. . . The politicians are very unpopular.’

25 April 1915
‘I got up at 6.30. Thoms, who shared my cabin, had been up earlier. There was a continuous roll of thunder from the south. Opposite to us the land rose steeply in cliffs and hills covered with the usual Mediterranean vegetation. The crackle of rifles sounded and ceased in turns. . . Orders were given to us to start at 8.30 a.m. . . The tows were punctual. . . We were ordered to take practically nothing but rations. I gave my sleeping-bag to Kyriakidis, the old Greek interpreter whom I had snatched from the Arcadia, and took my British warm and my Burberry. . . The tow was unpleasantly open to look at; there was naturally no shelter of any kind. We all packed in, and were towed across the shining sea towards the land fight. . . We could see some still figures lying on the beach to our left, one or two in front. Some bullets splashed round.

As we were all jumping into the sea to flounder ashore, I heard cries from the sergeant at the back of the tow. He said to me: “These two men refuse to go ashore.” I turned and saw Kristo Keresteji and Yanni of Ayo Strati with mesmerized eyes looking at plops tha the bullets made in the water, and with their minds evidently fixed on the Greek equivalent of “Home, Sweet Home.” They were, however, pushed in, and we all scrambled on to that unholy land. The word was then, I thought rather unnecessarily, passed that we were under fire.’

26 April 1915
‘At 5 o’clock yesterday our artillery began to land. It’s a very rough country; the Mediterranean macchia everywhere, and steep, winding valleys. We slept on a ledge a few feet above the beech . . . Firing went on all night. In the morning it was very cold, and we were all soaked. The Navy, it appeared, had landed us in the wrong place. This made the Army extremely angry, though as things turned out it was the one bright spot. Had we landed anywhere else, we should have been wiped out.’

28 April 1915
‘I got up at 4 a.m. this morning, after a fine, quiet night, and examined a Greek deserter from the Turkish Army. He said many would desert if they did not fear for their lives. The New Zealanders spare their prisoners.

Last night, while he was talking to me, Colonel C. was hit by a bit of shell on his hat. He stood quite still while a man might count three, wondering if he was hurt. He then stooped down and picked it up. At 8 p.m. last night there was furious shelling in the gully. Many men and mules hit. General Godley was in the Signalling Office, on the telephone, fairly under cover. I was outside with Pinwell, and got grazed, just avoiding the last burst. Their range is better. Before this they have been bursting the shrapnel too high. It was after 4 p.m. Their range improved so much. My dugout was shot through five minutes before I went there. So was Shaw’s . . .’

11 a.m. All firing except from Helles has ceased. Things look better. The most the men can do is to hang on. General Godley has been very fine. The men know it.

4.30 p.m. Turks suddenly reported to have mounted huge howitzer on our left flank, two or three miles away. We rushed all the ammunition off the beach, men working like ants, complete silence and furious work. We were absolutely enfiladed, and they could have pounded us, mules and machinery, to pulp, or driven us into the gully and up the hill, cutting us off from our water and at the same time attacking us with shrapnel. The ships came up and fired on the new gun, and proved either that it was a dummy or had moved, or had been knocked out. It was a cold, wet night.’

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Anne Chalmers in London

‘I have reached a most venerable antiquity,’ wrote Anne Chalmers in her diary on turning 17. She was in London with her famous father, Dr Thomas Chalmers, being a tourist and enjoying the waxworks in Westminster Abbey and the sounds of street sellers. She died 120 years ago today.

Anne Chalmers was born in 1813, to Thomas Chalmers and Grace Pratt who had married the year before. They moved to Glasgow in 1815, and had five more daughters, and to Edinburgh in the 1820s when Chalmers was appointed to the chair of theology at Edinburgh University.

Anne married Dr William Hanna who later wrote a biography of her father - Memoirs of Dr Chalmers - in four volumes. Anne died on 27 March 1891. There is very little information about her online (the photo is taken from National Galleries of Scotland Commons), although there is plenty about her father - at Wikipedia for example - who was famous in his day as a social reformer and the first moderator of the Free Church of Scotland.

Stewart J Brown’s biography for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required) concludes as follows: Chalmers has remained a controversial figure since his death. For some biographers, including his son-in-law, William Hanna, Chalmers was a saintly figure, a man of deep piety and evangelical conviction, whose main concern was the salvation of souls and who chose to lead a pure remnant out of a corrupt establishment in 1843. For others, such as the mid-twentieth-century historians Andrew Drummond and James Bulloch, he was the ‘evil genius’ of the nineteenth-century church, a middle-class ecclesiastical politician whose poor-relief programmes brought hardship to the labouring orders and whose ambition for power and unwillingness to compromise led to the unnecessary break-up of the national church.’

For a few months in 1830, Anne and her mother accompanied Chalmers to London where he was to give evidence before the Commission on Pauperism. Anne kept a diary of the trip. This was edited by her daughter and published in 1922 ‘for private circulation only’ by The Chelsea Publishing Co. as Letters & Journal - Anne Chalmers. The full text is available at Internet Archive.

Here are a few paragraphs from Norman Maclean’s foreword to the book (also published separately in The Scotsman): ‘It was fortunate that the letters written by Anne Chalmers to her life-long friend Anne Parker (afterwards Lady Cardwell) were preserved, and also her journal of the year 1830, for they gave intimate and vivid glimpses of one of the greatest of Scotsmen Dr. Chalmers. . . She lived all her life among the men who create opinion and mould events. . . The diary . . . gives glimpes of a vanished life. It is not often that a young lady describes the effect of mixing her drinks.

This is Anne’s description of the fatal course: “During dinner I experienced a sensation I never had before. I had only drank a little wine and a very little champagne, and taken a draught of beer, as I thought, but I am sure now it was strong ale. I felt as if my head was chaos, and something appeared to be rushing with immense force and rapidity through it ; but still I continued mechanically, though a sense of shame and horror overpowered me. My advice to every Scotsman is to beware of asking beer in London, for they invariably get either ale or porter!” . . .

The visit that most impressed her was one to Coleridge. The poet talked for half-an-hour on Irving and the Book of Revelation. “The effect of his monologue was on me like that of listening to entrancing music. I burst into tears when it stopped, and we found ourselves suddenly in the open air.” ’

And here are two entries from early on in the diary itself, the day of her birthday and the subsequent day.

5 May 1830
‘Wednesday, the 5th of May, is my birthday. I have reached a most venerable antiquity. Papa, Mamma, and I walked to Westminster Abbey and were conducted over it by the guide. We saw the tombs of many of the kings, nobles, and poets of former days, and wax figures of Charles II, a Duke of Buckingham, Queen Elizabeth, William and Mary, Ann and Nelson (who is like life). Elizabeth has a most disagreeable expression of countenance. Mary and Ann are good-looking. Among other tombs we saw that of Mary Queen of Scots. Her figure is represented in a recumbent posture on it. We also saw the monuments of Edward I, Henry III, Richard II and his queen, the two princes who were murdered in the Tower, Milton, Dryden, Chaucer, Watts, Horner, etc. In one of the apartments stand the chairs on which the King and Queen sit when they are crowned. To that of the King is fixed the Scotch stone on which the Kings of Scotland were once crowned before it was taken from Scone by Edward I. The architecture of this Abbey is splendid. We were in the chapel in which Divine service is performed twice every day. A genuine Scotchman who had been making the round of the Abbey and making remarks with great simplicity on what he saw, here inquired earnestly, ‘But whaur’s the pulpit; whaur does the minister and the precentor sit?’ After looking round the room he was satisfied as to the position of the pulpit. After leaving Westminster we walked through St James’s Park and sat down by the pond in the centre of it, paying a penny each for the refreshment of chairs. The road between St James’s Park and the Green Park resembles the Meadows very much. We were a little fatigued by our excursion, and sat quietly for the rest of the day in our lodgings, to which we began to get somewhat reconciled and accustomed.

In the evening Mr Irving and Mr Nisbet called. When Mr I. was told it was my birthday, he said, ‘Dear child, may it come often.’ He is grieved about the illness of his little dear child! ‘There was nothing extravagant about his appearance. He seems to believe in Mary Campbell’s [a speaker of tongues] miraculous gifts.’

6 May 1830
‘Heard as usual in the morning the varied intonations of the London cries, from the staccato of the old clothes man to the long of the men selling boxes. To-day for the first time I saw a Bishop in his lawn apron. He was a fine-looking man, upon whose countenance a pleasing smile was lighted up as he crossed the street to speak to a gentleman. This last turned out to be MrLockier, who called on us and told us it was the Bishop of London we had seen, a very talented man. Walked through the Horse Guard House and by the side of St James’s Park and through the court of St James’s Palace, where Papa showed us the identical spot at which he had received a curtsey to himself alone from Queen Charlotte many years ago.

We dined with Lord Barham. I was particularly interested by a Mrs O’Brien, who seems a compound of talent, naivete, and gaiety. She is the most lovable person I ever saw. I like Lord Barham. He looks melancholy, and though he is not old, he has laid three wives in the grave. His last wife died about six months ago. It is customary here to hang the escutcheon of the family painted on a black ground on the walls of the house when the head of the family dies.’

Friday, March 25, 2011

Trowps deuouring my hay

One of Britain’s early diarists, Walter Powell, was born 430 years ago this day. He appears to have been a reasonably successful businessman, acting as a steward for the Earl of Worcester, among other occupations. Though his diary - which covers half a century - is little more than a list of events, these are often surprisingly interesting, as when Powell records, during the Civil War, ‘Trowps deuouring my hay’.

Walter Powell was born on born 25 March 1581, into a Welsh family that claimed to be of Norman origin. He married Margaret Evans in 1604, and initially they lived in Llanarth but then moved to Llantilio in 1611. Powell worked as a steward for the Earl of Worcester, and for some other estates. He also leased a mill, it seems, for at least two decades.

Powell died in 1655 (or 1656 according to the modern dating system), and is remembered largely because he left behind a diary. This was edited by Joseph Bradney and published by John Wright, Bristol, in 1907 as The Diary of Walter Powell of Llantilio, Crossenny in the County of Monmouth, Gentleman, 1603-1654. It is largely made up of single line entries recording events, but does provide information on his family, farming and estate work, and makes brief references to the effects of the Civil War. The full text is available at Internet Archive.

In his introduction Bradney says: ‘It might be wished that [Powell] had said more about the Civil Wars, and, in particular, the siege of Raglan. On the 25th of May, 1646, a few days before the siege began, he was committed to prison in Raglan Castle for an offence he does not name. The siege began on the 3rd of June, and on the 8th of June, on account of his age, he was allowed by Lord Worcester to depart, the besiegers also permitting him to go home. . . During his absence his house in Penrhos had been plundered by the Parliamentary forces. Safe at home again he settled down to business as though no disturbances were taking place in the kingdom, his diary containing the usual notes as to lending money, collecting rents, and attending sessions.’

Bradney also makes this comment: ‘It is worthy of note that his daughter Anne, who was bom at the vicarage 23 May, 1611, married her husband John Watkins 11 June, 1621, she being therefore only slightly over 10 years of age. Her husband was baptized 2 June, 1609, so that he was but a trifle over 12 years old, both younge as the Diarist observes.’

Here are a few verbatim entries from Powell’s diary, from 1611, being exactly four centuries ago, and from 1645-1646, during the Civil War.

‘I removed from lanarth to the viccarage of lantilio gressenny to dwell 27 Apr.
and I had a graunt from mr Sterrell of the ffarme for 21 yeares 13 Maij.
My father fell sicke 5 Junij, & died 19 Junij
Sould the house & lands late Rosser d’d wayth to Wm Sr Hughe for 1ooli ijs 23 Jan’ij.
John Evans & my sister his wief came to liue togeather as man & wief 24 Jan’ij.’

‘this was the greatest yeare of ffruite that eu’ i saw. I made 50 hogsheades of sider of the tieth of both p’ishes.’

‘4 Apr’, Prince Rupert at Bergeveny
6 Apr’, received the sacram’t at lanarth
5 May, mr John Powell’s testam’t
15 May, Jo: Charles & Jane Wms maried.
24 May, Moore Jones was buried, Conisbye’s trowps deuouring my hay meadowes.
3 July, King Charles at Raglan & 10 July at Cardiff
18 July, the affray wth Grossem’t men for Stedda’s
19 July, I brought present to the kinge at Raglan
21 Julij, Howell Jones wief died & my children removed to lanvapley
2 Aug:, tieth demised to Rich: tho: d’d, & Phe’ d’d John.
1 Sept’, Rendevous at Perlleny, I was not there
2 sept’, siedge at hereff’ removed after 6 weekes
7 sept’. The king at Raglan againe
10 sept’, Bristow taken by the p’liam’t lost by Prince Rupert.
24 sept’, Edward John James Watkin died
2 octobr’, leeches vsed p’ Bray to me, & Chepstow was taken p’ p’hament.
13 & 14 octobr’, Washington at Bergeveny
20 octob’, my sonne Richard went to Bristow & 8 die was imprisoned at langely coming back.
24, my daughter margaret brought to bedd of her first sonne.
3 Novemb’, m’ris Bray at my house.
7 Novemb’, I myself removed to lyve in Penrose.
9 Novembr’, my daughter Blaunch died.
12 Novemb’, Elenor James widow buried
23 Novemb’, John Evans & An Young hurt at tregare
27, the p’liamt army at my house, Collonell Morgan coming from Gloucester towards Bergeveny.
12 decembr’, my wief removed to Penros to dwell.
18 decemb’, hereff’ taken p’ p’lam’t by Coll: Morgan.
19 decemb’, Valentine Jones lewis prison’ to Raglan.
17 Jan’ij, Tho: lewis my man’s father slayne.
16 m’cij, at Vske w’th maghen
14 m’cij, Collonell Charles P’ger2 at lanvapley to burne my hay.
19 m’che, I payd 28s at Raglan p’ muskett
23 m’cij, m’ris Nelson’s oxen plundered.
26 m’cij, hay burnt at lantilio by the souldiers of Monmoth.’

‘29 M’cij, I & my wief rec’ sacram’t at lanarth
1 Apr’, Tho: & Besse my serv’ts maried.
18, my sonne Richard abused at Grossemount by Bissley & Tho: Chr’; do’r Bray died.
10 May, Lucas hurt by Tho: James Jo: Howell.
17 May, I received the sacram’t at lanarth.
25 May, I was comitted prison’ at Raglan to the marshall of the Garison, where I remayned close till 8 Junij p’xo.
29 May, my house was plundered at Penros by the p’liament forces.
3 Junij, the siedge at Raglan began. Raglan yealded vpp 19 Augusti p’xo.
8 Junij, I was suffered to come out throughe the leaguer.
9 et 10 Julij, Wm loup at my house, & he allowed contribuc’on & quartering to Andr’ lewis & his sone.
sould black horse to Rich: Band 5li
21 Julij, at Vske contra g’ll’m p’ le taxac’ons
30 Julij, Goodrich castle taken for ye p’liamt
6 Aug., Gen’all ffayrfax came to the leaguer.
19 Aug:, Raglan Castle yealded vpp.
21 sept’, Charles came from Bristow to my house.
24 Sept’, I was at Sadlebow hill.’

Sunday, March 13, 2011

‘Too many Chinks’

Today is the centenary of the birth of Ron Hubbard, the controversial figure who developed Dianetics and founded the Church of Scientology. In his day he had a huge following, and his church or cult grew at exponential rates, at least until undermined by legal and moral challenges, leading him to spend the last years of his life as a recluse. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that he kept a diary through his life, but as a teenager he did write one when in the Far East, and campaigners against the cult have seized on those diaries to undermine his claims about the spiritual influence the trips had on the ideas that led to Dianetics and Scientology.

Lafayette Ronald Hubbard was born on 13 March 1911 in Tilden, Nebraska. His father was in the navy for a while, and his mother worked as a clerk for the state government, but the family moved around a lot during Ronald’s childhood. During the last years of his schooling, he lived mostly with his grandparents in Helena, Montana, apart from some time in Guam, South Pacific, where his father was stationed. He studied civil engineering at George Washington University for a couple of years but then dropped out.

During the 1930s, Hubbard developed a skill at writing in various genres for pulp fiction magazines, particularly science fiction, and is said to have associated with writers such as Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. His first full-length novel, Buckskin Brigades, was published in 1937, many more followed. During the late 1940s, Hubbard started publishing works about a system of mental health, called Dianetics. After his book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health became a best-seller, he gave up fiction and focused on promoting Dianetics, writing more books, delivering many lectures and launching various research organisations. The Church of Scientology, founded by Hubbard in 1954, became the most popular and famous of these groups.

Hubbard’s ideas continued to be popular throughout the 1960s and 1970s, establishing many hundreds of churches, missions, and groups around the world with membership rising to six million. However, increasingly Scientology ran into all kinds of legal problems, and eventually Hubbard became a recluse living in various different locations around the world. He had married three times and had had seven children when he died of a stroke in 1986. Wikipedia has a very extensive and well-referenced biography, noting many of the contradictions between official Scientology versions of Hubbard’s life and the facts. For a Scientology view of the man see the official Ron Hubbard website, and for an alternative view see Russell Miller’s Bared-Faced Messiah (available on Chris Owen’s website) or A Piece of Blue Sky by Jon Atack.

While still a teenager, Hubbard made two trips to China. Later the trips were to be mythologised as the source of some of the wisdom that went into the spiritualism in Dianetics and Scientology. But at the time, Hubbard was keeping a diary, and much is made of this by critics of Hubbard and Scientology’s stories about him. Here are three paragraphs from Wikipedia’s text summarising the two trips and the records of those trips in his diary. (The original source of the diary material is given by Atack in his book as ‘exhibits 62, 63, 65, Church of Scientology of California vs. Gerald Armstrong, Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles, case no. C 420153’; and the photo of Hubbard’s diary is also taken from Atack’s book.)

‘Between 1927 and 1929 Hubbard traveled to Japan, China, the Philippines and Guam. Scientology texts present this period in his life as a time when he was intensely curious for answers to human suffering and explored ancient Eastern philosophies for answers, but found them lacking. He is described as traveling to China ‘at a time when few Westerners could enter’ and is said to have spent his time questioning Buddhist lamas and meeting old Chinese magicians. . . Hubbard’s unofficial biographers present a very different account of his travels in Asia. Hubbard’s diaries recorded two trips to the east coast of China. The first was made in the company of his mother while traveling from the United States to Guam in 1927. It consisted of a brief stop-over in a couple of Chinese ports before traveling on to Guam, where he stayed for six weeks before returning home. He recorded his impressions of the places he visited and disdained the poverty of the inhabitants of Japan and China, whom he described as ‘gooks’ and ‘lazy [and] ignorant’. . .

Between October and December 1928 a number of naval families, including Hubbard’s, traveled from Guam to China aboard the USS Gold Star. The ship stopped at Manila in the Philippines before traveling on to Qingdao (Tsingtao) in China. Hubbard and his parents made a side trip to Beijing before sailing on to Shanghai and Hong Kong, from where they returned to Guam. Scientology accounts present a different version of events, saying that Hubbard ‘made his way deep into Manchuria’s Western Hills and beyond - to break bread with Mongolian bandits, share campfires with Siberian shamans and befriend the last in the line of magicians from the court of Kublai Khan.’

However, Hubbard did not record these events in his diary. He remained unimpressed with China and the Chinese, writing: ‘A Chinaman can not live up to a thing, he always drags it down.’ He characterized the sights of Beijing as ‘rubberneck stations’ for tourists and described the palaces of the Forbidden City as ‘very trashy-looking’ and ‘not worth mentioning’. He was impressed by the Great Wall of China near Beijing but concluded of the Chinese: ‘They smell of all the baths they didn’t take. The trouble with China is, there are too many chinks here.’ ’

Thursday, March 10, 2011

If I had been a monster

Today is the 150th anniversary of the death of the great Ukrainian poet, artist and nationalist, Taras Shevchenko. He was exiled for a decade by the Tsar for subversive writings against Russian domination of Ukraine, and on being released started to keep a diary. This has been called a ‘living portrait of the implacable revolutionary’.

Shevchenko was born a serf in the village of Moryntsi, then in the Russian Empire (now in Cherkasy Oblast, Ukraine) in 1814. He was orphaned at 11, and grew up in poverty, but was taught to read by a lay church person. From the age of 14, he worked as a houseboy for his owner, Pavel Engelhardt, in Vilnius and then St Petersburg. Having noticed a talent for drawing, though, Engelhardt apprenticed him to the painter V Shiriaev. Through him he met other Russian and Ukrainian artists, including the famous painter and professor Karl Briullov. A portrait of the Russian poet Vasilii Zhukovsky by Briullov was sold in a lottery to raise funds to buy Shevchenko’s freedom in 1838. That same year he enrolled in the Imperial Academy of Arts in St Petersburg.

Shevchenko’s first collection of poetry - Kobzar - was published in 1840; epic poems and plays followed. In the mid-1840s, he made several trips to regions that are now modern Ukraine and, disturbed by the conditions he found there, produced an album of etchings of the historical and cultural ruins. Also, he began to write increasingly subversive material against the Tsarist regime. In 1847, he was arrested with others interested in bringing more freedom to Ukraine, and was exiled as a private with the Russian military Orenburg garrison at Orsk near the Ural Mountains. Tsar Nicholas I, confirming his sentence, added: ‘Under the strictest surveillance, without a right to write or paint.’

Shevchenko remained in exile for a decade, to 1857, though the Tsar’s ban on his artistic work was never more than lax, and he produced both sketches and writing during the period. In 1859, he was allowed to move to Ukraine, but then was arrested and ordered to return to St Petersburg. He continued to write poetry, etch and paint, but ill-health got the better of him, and he died on 10 March 1861. Further biographical information is available at Wikipedia, and at the Taras H Shevchenko Museum & Memorial (in Toronto), and Encyclopaedia of Ukraine.

Encyclopaedia of Ukraine provides this assessment: ‘Shevchenko has held a unique position in Ukrainian intellectual history, and the importance of his poetry for Ukrainian culture and society cannot be underestimated. His Kobzar marks the beginning of a new era in Ukrainian literature and in the development of the modern Ukrainian language. Through his poetry, Shevchenko legitimized the use of Ukrainian as a language of modern literature. His poems’ revolutionary and political content found resonance among other captive peoples. The earliest translations of his poems - mainly into Polish, Russian, Czech, and German - appeared while he was still alive. By the 1990s parts of the Kobzar had been translated into more than 100 languages. Shevchenko’s poetry has also become a source of inspiration for many other works of literature, music, and art.’

For less than two years, in 1857 and 1858, after being released from exile, Shevchenko kept a diary. The Encyclopaedia of Ukraine says ‘it is of great value in interpreting his poetic works and an important source for studying his intellectual interests and development.’ Yevhen Kirilyuk, a Member of the Academy of Science of Ukraine, wrote in 1961 that this diary is ‘a wonderful human document which provides us with a living portrait of the implacable revolutionary and the significance of the development of engineering and science, which would inevitably bring an end to the old order’. And Professor W K Matthews of the University of London wrote (in Forum magazine, 1989) that the diary is ‘particularly illuminating on the notable change in his psychology which was the inevitable outcome of ten physically and morally degrading years of exile in the Kazakh steppe.’

Matthews continues: ‘Like Shakespeare, another author with a defective early education, Shevchenko was an uncommonly sensitive and impressionable man, quick to learn, and able to transform acquired knowledge to his own use and to give it the stamp of his unique genius. A sober study of Shevchenko’s poetry convinces us of this, even though we can easily pick out its folk-song elements. But as we read his ‘Diary’ we continually marvel at the variety of his interests and information, the maturity of his understanding, his balanced judgment in the fields of literature and aesthetics, and his high moral standard. . .

What drew Shevchenko to the Russian revolutionaries in his latter days was an unrelenting hatred of established authority - both that of the landowners and that of the Russian government. These had been the twin sources of his miseries from his birth. And how intense those miseries could be we realize, for instance, from the pages of his Diary, in which he complained on 19th June, 1857: ‘If I had been a monster, a murderer, even than a more fitting punishment could not have been devised for me than that of sending me off as a private to the Special Orenburg Corps. It is here that you have the cause of my indescribable sufferings. And in addition to all this I am forbidden to sketch’. To these words he subsequently adds the scathing remark: ‘The heathen Augustus, banishing Naso to the savage Getae, did not forbid him to write or to sketch. Yet the Christian Nicholas forbade me both.’

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A myriad of mountains

Xu Xiake died three hundred and seventy years ago today. He was an intrepid traveller exploring his native China with pen in hand, so to speak, recording the details of his journeys with literary flare and a romantic style. He also made significant geographical discoveries. Extracts (all too few of them) of his travel diaries are available in English in Julian Ward’s academic analysis - Xu Xiake (1587-1641) - The Art of Travel Writing.

Xu Xiake was born in today’s Jiangyin of East China’s Jiangsu Province. As a boy, he studied ancient classics but rather than taking the imperial exams, he developed an interest in history and travel books, and in travelling. During his lifetime, he journeyed with his servant Gu Xing all over China, mostly or very often on foot.

China Culture lists Xu Xiake’s main contributions to geography as: a detailed and scientific study of the karst landform; correcting some mistakes of the records on the source and waterways of Chinese rivers; observing and recording the species of many plants, explicitly putting forward the influences that landform, temperature, and wind speed might have on the distribution and blooming of plants; conducting a survey on the volcano relics of Tengchong Mountain; and a detailed depiction of the phenomenon of terrestrial heat, the earliest of its kind in China. He died on 8 March 1641. A little more biographical information is available at Wikipedia and The Smithsonian Magazine.

Xu Xiake recorded his travels in great detail. These notes were later arranged by a friend and prepared as a manuscript, but this suffered through the ages and was only printed in 1776 when part was already lost. Not till 1928, was a modern version of the diaries printed, by the Commercial Press in Shanghai.

Julian Ward first saw a version of the diaries in Xi’an in 1988, and then decided to research them further for his PhD at Edinburgh University - An Analysis of Literary and Philosophical Aspects of the Travel Diaries of Xu Xiake (1587-1641) - completed in 1996. Subsequently, in 2001, Curzon Press published Ward’s Xu Xiake (1587-1641) - The Art of Travel Writing, which is an extensive academic analysis of Xu Xiake’s diaries, and, unfortunately, contains all too few substantial passages from the diaries themselves. After a chapter on ‘The History of Chinese Travel Writing’, other chapters focus on subjects such as ‘Coveting Strangeness’, ‘Old Certainties and New Discoveries’, ‘Mountains and Caves’. The extensive bibliography lists various Chinese language editions of his diaries, the earliest of which is the 1928 edition.

The following two paragraphs are extracted from Ward’s book:

‘The present text of Xu Xiake’s diaries has more than 600,000 characters, of which the early trips to famous mountains constitute 50,000 and the journey to southwest China well over 500,000 characters. Popular myths surrounding his method of writing have arisen from romantic descriptions in contemporary biographies, which played on the image of the sensitive man at one with Nature. . . [One biographer wrote:] ‘After travelling for several hundred li, he would clamber up a broken rock to a withered tree and burn pines in order to gather together some tassels. He would then dash of a record of his journey, which was as good as a writing manual or a great work of art, something which even the greatest writers could not have improved.’

For much of his long journey, Xu managed to write his diary entries on the day in question. There were also, however, several instances when he had to wait several days before finding an opportunity to write up his experiences. On one such occasion, at a temple in Guizhou, he elaborated: ‘Entering a hall to the rear, I went up to a clean table and, using the ink and paper I was carrying, proceeded to write up several days of my journey. The jumbled chaos of my lodging was no match for the cleanliness and exclusion of this place. The monk, Tanbo, was most solicitous, bringing me tea and snacks from time to time. In the afternoon, two big and two small elephants came by, stopping in front of the temple for a long time . . . I was quite intoxicated in drafting my diary.’ ’

And here are three further (undated) samples of the translated diary taken from Ward’s book.

In Hunan
‘Since Cold Water Bay, the mountains and the sky had opened out, broadening the field of vision, while on either bank of the river water-eating rocks hove in and out of view, each one a sensual and visual feast. On entering the Qiyang region, the rocks took on a strange form and a shining appearance: as we passed through the region, they gradually presented a lofty form till by the time we had reached here, they seemed to surge out of the earth. On entering Xiangkou, the mass of towering interwoven cliffs was transformed into precipitous cliffs, rearing up into the sky.’

In eastern Yunnan
‘At the front of the courtyard was a flowering cassia tree whose mysterious fragrance floated all round, filling up the distant hills and valleys. Previously when I had passed through the valley and circled the ridge I had marvelled at its scent, thinking it to be heavenly fragrance descending in the distance, never imagining it was produced by blossom. The sweet-smelling cassia and the colourful chrysanthemums made me think about this secluded region and I regretted there was no monk with whom I could share it.’

In Guizhou
‘Followed the mountain path to the northeast and entered a bamboo thicket: towering trees and layered cliffs, above and below mysterious, crossed crags and penetrated the azure, as if in another world. It was like this for five li, then the cliff to the west sloped down from the summit falling to great depths to create a valley, in the middle of which was a marsh of still water, dark and deep blue. Slid into the water from the base of the rocks, but there was no ebb or flow: it was a truly ancient secluded pool, hidden in the valleys of a myriad mountains.’