Friday, May 20, 2011

Browning’s friend Domett

Alfred Domett, a literary man who emigrated to New Zealand and became its prime minister for a short time, was born two centuries ago today. His diary, though not well known, is often quoted as a source of information about his friend, the much more famous poet Robert Browning, and other artists of the time.

Domett was born in Camberwell, Surrey, on 20 May 1811. He studied at St John’s College, Cambridge, but did not finish his degree. After travelling in North America and the West Indies, he returned to study law at Middle Temple before being called to the bar in 1841. He published several volumes of poetry during this period, and contributed to Blackwood’s Magazine. He was a friend of Robert Browning, who wrote a poem (Waring) about him.

In 1842, Domett emigrated to New Zealand where he had purchased some land, and took up farming. He was invited to enter politics after working for a while as editor of the Nelson Examiner. He rose rapidly, being appointed Colonial Secretary for New Munster in 1848, Secretary for the Colony in 1851, and became Prime Minister in 1862 (although he only served in this office for a little over a year). During the rest of the 1860s, he was Secretary for Lands and Registrar-general of lands. He also established the General Assembly Library.

Domett returned to England in 1871 with his wife, Mary George, a widowed schoolteacher whom he had married in 1856. Once back in London he re-established his friendship with Browning, and pursued his literary interests, including publishing more poems, one of which was Ranolf and Amohia. He died in 1887. There is not much biographical information about him available on the internet, though Wikipedia has a short entry, and the ONDB a longer one (subscription or library card log in required).

Domett certainly kept a diary for some periods of his life, and the extant volumes are kept by the British Library. None of this material, though, was published until 1953 when Oxford University Press brought out The Diary of Alfred Domett, 1872-1885, edited by E A Horsman. Another volume appeared two years later, published by University of Western Ontario: The Canadian Journal of Alfred Domett: being an extract from a journal of a tour in Canada, the United States and Jamaica, 1833-1835. This was also edited by Horsman, as well as by Lillian Rea Benson who appears to have been largely responsible for unearthing the travel diary.

Here are a few extracts from The Diary of Alfred Domett, 1872-1885, all to be found on The Victorian Web, except the one for 30 March 1876 which can be found at the Armstrong Browning Library website (see no. 4).1 April 1873
‘[Thomas] Thornycroft [sculptor of the group representing Agriculture, flanking the Albert Monument, among others] shewed us his studio. His large group of Boadicea with her daughters beside her driving her chariot into battle, with the expression of one of the faces, looking forth into the ‘hurly-burly’ with a kind of daring awe, seemed very fine. Pity they don’t find a place for the group on the top of one of our tame abortive-looking park porticoes or arches not very ‘triumphal’. We saw too the plaister model of his group for a new drinking-fountain in Park Lane; the poet-figures, Shakespeare, Milton & Chaucer by Thornycroft Senr., the gilded Fame surmounting it, by his son.’

10 May 1873
‘Called on the Thornycrofts, Wilton Place. Found Mr T at work on a model of the horse for an equestrian statue of Lord Mayo he had been commissioned to make for Calcutta. He was modelling his horse without sketch or other original as a guide. Said he had made so many he did not require any. When he wanted to study a horse, he used to go & walk in the Park, Rotten Row, where his living models were in plenty.

He never exhibits at the Royal Academy, nor sends his works there as he does not belong to it. Does not care to belong to the Academy now though when he was young it would have been of use to him.

Talking with Mrs Thornycroft and praising her beautiful and simple statues of the Queen’s children she said the Queen had had copies of them made to send to several of the Royal Families of Europe. . .’

29 October 1873
‘[John Henry Foley - designer of the Albert Memorial] was very kind and affable and shewed us through his studio. The model of the Statue of Prince Albert for The Hyde Park monument was there. He says when the Queen came to see it, she liked the expression of the face so much that she desired it might not even be touched by him any further, and so, though he had not considered it quite finished he had complied with her request and left it as it was. The statue, to be in bronze gilt, had been so long in execution, because in the hurry to get it done, the molten metal had been poured into the mould before the latter was thoroughly dry, so that the generated steam had exploded and destroyed it. Thus to save a week, they had lost 6 months at least for the extra work required to make a second mould.’

30 March 1876
‘[Alf - Domett’s son] and I going to R Curling’s house to dinner in Princess square, as we were crossing Hereford St, heard someone calling loudy ‘Domett!’ Turned, and Browning came rushing up. Alf’s being a Royal Academy student, made us ask how ‘Pen’ [Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barret Browning only child] was getting on.

‘He has had a wonderful success!’ said Browning. He brought over with him at Xmas a ‘study’ of a priest reading a book. Millais had seen the picture and pronounced ‘the drawing perfect.’

Lehmann [Frederick Lehmann, a wealthy industrialist] expressed a desire to purchase it and offered Pen 150 guineas for it. Pen said ‘It was absurd - it could not be worth so much!’ that he did not wish to sell it, knowing its defects. The other persisted in his offer. ‘Let me wait another year and then I will paint you a picture if you like and if I can,’ said Pen. ‘Then your price will probably be beyond me’ replied Lehmann, ‘I must have this one.’ Browning said Pen was ‘quite wise’ about it and still declined to take so much money, until at last he (Browning) said ‘Pen, don't be a fool - take it as it is offered.’ Then he consented but stipulated that it should not be exhibited - not on account of misgivings as to its merit, whatever he may have entertained, but because the book the priest was represented as reading was a very uncanonical one indeed - certain notorious memoirs of a French Madame - and Pen did not wish to give offence to the many who ‘reverenced priests.’

29 May 1877
‘Went to London Library. A meeting of members was being held up-stairs . . . I stood by the door while Gladstone was speaking near the fire place. Gladstone, a dusky-complexioned spare middle-sized man, with grey hair, thin and straggling; eyes very black and rather bright; earnest expression; with a sort of approach to a slouch in his manner and bearing. He spoke fluently but not at all rapidly; sentences rather winding and long drawn out like honey you must twist the spoon to break off. When he had spoken, an old benevolent looking aquiline-nosed stooping man (the Archbishop of Dublin) made a few remarks, in the course of which, Gladstone quietly took his hat and sloped out stealing close by me to the door.’

5 June 1877
‘Being at the Zoological Gardens, I looked in at the Lecture Room. Huxley was lecturing. A dark-complexioned man, with deepset eyes, prominent forehead and turned-up nose, thick rather coarse hair slightly streaked with grey, parted on one side, and brushed back from his forehead in the middle; lower part of the cheeks a little flabby making a sort of fold overarching the mouth; lips loose and mouth working; fidgety, rather excitable in manner, passing the back of his hand across his nose nervously, but as if from habit, not in the least from diffidence. He spoke in a low conversational tone; taking a snake from a box, handling and describing it; explaining some of the motions of its head and body by pawing with his hand in the air.’

3 May 1883
‘At Edinburgh for my first time! A wonderful place with all that a town should have, in compactness and completeness unmatched - a perfect ideal of a city! Romantic site of hill and vale - fine buildings and monuments mediaeval and modern; palace and castle; antiquated gloomy wynds and closes and lofty houses towering up like cliffs, dotted with windows like loopholes; all teeming with associations, historical, poetical, scientific - national and individual - heroic, tragic, comic, quaint, terrible or humorous; all in their appropriate places, disposed like a scene in a theatre - all as it were within a space to be seen almost at a glance! . . .’

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The literary profession

Yale University Press has just published a first substantial edition of the journals written by Alfred Kazin, one of the most important American literary critics of the 20th century. The journals, the Press says, collectively tell the story of Kazin’s journey from Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood to his position as a dominant figure in twentieth-century cultural life.

Kazin was born in 1915 in Brooklyn to uneducated Yiddish-speaking immigrants, but went on to study at City College of New York. He became a book reviewer for The New Republic, and while still in his 20s, he wrote On Native Grounds, a much-lauded re-interpretation of American literature - a book of literary criticism which read, according to The New York Times, ‘like a passionate communication intended for intelligent, living human beings rather than like a 1940s academic exercise or a 1930s political tract.’

Although there is a published biography of Kazin, there is not much detailed biographical information about him freely available on the internet. Christopher Hawtree, in his review (for The Telegraph) of Alfred Kazin: a Biography, by Richard Cook, says that after publishing On Native Grounds ‘other literary studies progressed as tentatively as his four marriages; affairs distracted him as readily as new ideas did from the book in hand. He found succour and success, however, with three acclaimed autobiographical works. . . A Walker in the City (1951), Starting Out in the Thirties (1965) and New York Jew (1978).’

In 1996, Kazin was awarded the first Truman Capote Lifetime Achievement Award for literary criticism. He died two years later - see The Independent or The New York Times for obituaries.

For most of his life Kazin kept a diary, and though he planned to release parts of it during his lifetime, no volume appeared until 1996 when HarperCollins published A Lifetime Burning in Every Moment - From the Journals of Alfred Kazin. ‘Written with the vividness and power of first-rate fiction,’ HarperCollins says, ‘it brings to life the great artists and thinkers who shaped the times, including Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud and Hannah Arendt, and shares Kazin’s insights on politics, literature, Jewish life after the Holocaust and American society. It is an immensely rich and resonant memoir from an observer whose eloquence can imbue each moment lived with a lifetime of thought and passion.’

Now, another 15 years later, Yale University Press has published Alfred Kazin’s Journals - ‘judiciously’ selected and edited by Kazin’s biographer Richard Cook. The publisher’s promotional material states: ‘To Kazin the daily entry was a psychological and spiritual act. To read through these entries is to reexperience history as a series of daily discoveries by an alert, adventurous, if often mercurial intelligence. It is also to encounter an array of interesting and notable personalities. Sketches of friends, mistresses, family figures, and other intellectuals are woven in with commentary on Kazin’s childhood, early religious interests, problems with parents, bouts of loneliness, dealings with publishers, and thoughts on the Holocaust. The journals also highlight his engagement with the political and cultural debates of the decades through which he lived. He wrestles with communism, cultural nationalism, liberalism, existentialism, Israel, modernism, and much more.’

Cook himself explains this about Kazin’s diaries on The American Scholar website: ‘Since high school he had been writing almost daily in a private journal that he had hoped to publish. He never did, though he published a memoir, A Lifetime Burning in Every Moment, based loosely on a few dozen undated and heavily edited entries. Why the journals or a substantial selection of entries never appeared is unclear. Other projects apparently intervened, and Kazin eventually despaired of working his way through the “pile-up of words,” 7,000 pages, amassed during 65 years of journal keeping.’

A generous number of extracts from the new book are available on the same website.

3 May 1945
‘Interview with T S Eliot, at his offices (Faber & Faber). Eliot now, if I calculate correctly, must be 57; face has aged and relaxed greatly, so that one’s first impression of him physically is of a rather tired kindness as opposed to the otherworldliness & hauteur of his early pictures. He was extremely kind, gentle, spoke very slowly and hesitatingly, livened up a bit when I pushed the conversation on to literary topics (at first, because of my official business, he spoke a little about popular education and his own experiences teaching for the WEA and LCC). He looks like a very sensitive question mark - long, winding, and bent; gives the impression that his sensibility is in his long curling nose and astonishing hands. I was so afraid that he would be standoffish or just reluctant that I spoke more than I wanted to, just to keep the conversation going. He said things which just verged on “you Americans,” but I grinned when he spoke of Truman and Missouri and he grinned back. . .’

6 October 1952
‘The literary profession - what a misnomer, what a horror. This very profession (of faith!) to which I entrust my life (for by that I mean my thinking) is also a mad scramble for social prestige and a job. So that at every point (but obviously most on Sunday night, before the treadmill gets me back) I oscillate between the native purity, the relative selflessness of my inner thought - and this splintery, tormented, boring, boring attempt to get things by my profession - my name on this list, my bank account full. The profession which by its incarnated incarnation the nullity of egotism, serves (how often!) only our egotism.

What a monster it is, then, this being not a writer, a thought-bearer, but a WRITER quoted on the jackets of the latest books, much sought-after by summer workshops, an object of mystery, a perpetual mode of unbelief, to the vulgar - “And do you write under your own name?” As if most us wrote for any purpose other than publicizing our own name!

No name, no writer.’

26 April 1972
‘Met Isaac Bashevis Singer in the Braniff waiting room at Laguardia. [. . .] He makes an impression on all around him even when they are not exactly sure who or what he is. His bags (which he insisted on carrying at all times) were crammed with mss. in large manila envelopes. He writes on loose pages torn out of school exercise books, and said, among other wonderful things, that the Jews hypnotize the outsiders & then get hated when they themselves desert “their” cause (i.e., first Christianity & then Marxism). He brightened up (without the help of any strong meat or drink whatsoever) at dinner, became positively pixieish at times. The essential solitude of the man, a kind of genial indifference to the world while happily tasting its money, prizes, etc. (his only recreation is travel) was very noticeable. It no longer matters where he is; he does not believe in anything outside his creative mind & fancies. . .’

Monday, May 9, 2011

The friends of liberty

Joseph Hunter, a little remembered Yorkshire antiquarian, died 150 years ago today. He started to keep a diary with some determination - perhaps to follow the example of Ralph Thoresby, another antiquarian who lived a century earlier - but doesn’t seem to have continued keeping it for long. Nevertheless, it provides some illuminating detail for those who study the history of reading.

Hunter was born in 1783 in Sheffield, the son of a cutler. Educated at Attercliffe, he later studied theology at New College in York, becoming a Presbyterian minister in Bath in 1809. He married Mary, daughter of Francis Hayward, and they had six children, of whom three sons and a daughter survived Hunter himself. A long-term interest in antiquarian studies led him to be appointed, in 1833, a sub-commissioner of the Records Commission to London. Five years later, he became an Assistant Keeper of the Public Records. He wrote much on history and archaeology.

After his death - on 9 May 1861 - a large number of his manuscripts became the property of the British Museum, the most important of which is a volume of some 650 pages completely filled with pedigrees of families based in Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Cheshire, and Lancashire. Wikipedia and the website of St Mary’s Parish Church, Ecclesfield, have short biographies.

Early on in his life, when only 23, Hunter decided to become a diarist, but he left behind less than a year’s worth of entries. Arthur Ponsonby, author of English Diaries, describes Hunter’s diary thus:

‘He notes the lectures he attends, the people with whom he has conversations and to whom he writes letters, sermons he hears, the establishment of ‘a society of literary conversations’ where they have a debate on a universal language; an attack of a severe cold (‘believe t’is epedemic and what is called influenza’) a tea-party where the conversation is ‘merest chit chat and scandal,’ etc. It would almost seem as if he were settling down to be a diarist when he begins describing people, for instance George Dyer, ‘a strange quizz, such a rough head of hair was never seen, but an entertaining fellow, takes snuff to wean himself from smoking.’ But after recording immense lists of books he is reading he breaks into a sort of shorthand just to give the division of the day, every hour of which is occupied in the study of Greek, Hebrew, mathematics, etc. and on September 20 he leaves off for good.’

Stephen Colclough, however, in his essay entitled Readers: Books and Biography contained within A companion to The History of the book edited by Simon Eliot and Jonathon Rose (published by Blackwell in 2007) makes good use of Hunter’s diary. Here are several paragraphs from his essay (available at Googlebooks).

‘. . . Institutions of reading (such as subscription libraries) helped to shape individual reading practices by encouraging the public discussion of texts. Several readers who were members of such institutions left records of their readings. The diaries of one such reader, Joseph Hunter, reveal that it was possible for a member of such an institution to interpret text in ways that were fundamentally opposed to the rules that governed their reading community.

During the late 1790s, Hunter was a member of the Surrey Street Library in Sheffield, Yorkshire. Surrey Street was a subscription library owned by its members. Members were charged an annual fee of one guinea, and both they and the books that they ordered had to pass the scrutiny of the library committee to be admitted. As Hunter records, he made frequent trips to the library to borrow a wide range of texts, including novels and magazines. The Analytical Review was a particular favourite, and he made notes on its contents and read texts, such as Robinson’s The Causes and Consequences of English Wars (1798), reviewed in its pages. However, in the autumn of 1798 the committee decided to remove many of the texts associated with the contemporary radical movement from its shelves. As Hunter noted on October 31, 1798: ‘[I] brought the 2nd number of the Anti-Jacobin Review & Magazine, which is got into the Surry Street Library instead of the Analytical which they have turned out. It is a most virulent attack upon all the friends of liberty or jacobins, as they are pleased to stile them; it is ornamented with caricature prints’.

Conservative writers viewed the Analytical as an important source of opposition to the war that Britain was fighting against France in the 1790s. . . The library committee may well have excluded the Analytical because it wanted to disassociate itself from opposition to the war against France, but the effect on Hunter was to make him aware of his own position as a member of an audience that was under attack. He is referring to himself as one of the ‘the friends of liberty’ in this passage from the diary, and it is from this position that he completed an oppositional, or resisting, reading of the contents of the Anti-Jacobin.

As this example suggest, Hunter’s diaries provide an important account of both the range of his reading (which included everything from ephemera to novels) and of the variety of strategies that he used to make sense of the texts. He even noted the presence of posters for political meetings in the streets and that he had seen men reading seditious periodicals at work. Such autobiographical documents are an important source of information about how texts were used. They provide vital evidence about reading as an everyday practice (sometimes passive, sometimes, as in his reading of the Anti-Jacobin, resisting) that cannot be recovered from inert sources such as publisher’s records. Hunter’s diary records that he was exceptionally well read in contemporary texts, but he was also exposed to older texts which he borrowed from his guardian or bought second-hand.’

Finally, it is also worth noting that Hunter edited and prepared for publication the diaries of Ralph Thoresby, another northern antiquarian who was born more than century earlier than himself. (See The Diary Junction for details.)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Royal wedding - Prussian style

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the death of Sir George Jackson, a 19th century diplomat of quiet distinction. Though little-remembered today, his diaries and letters were edited by his wife (a slightly better-remembered author) and published not long after his death. Typically, the diaries describe his diplomatic life. One interesting entry focuses on the marriage of Prince William to Princess Amelia - a royal wedding, Prussian style.

Jackson was born in 1785, the youngest son of Dr Thomas Jackson, one of the canons of the Abbey of Westminster at the time, and subsequently canon residentiary of St Paul’s. Although initially destined to follow his father into the church, he went instead, in 1801, to Paris. There he acted as unpaid attache to his much older brother, Francis, who had been appointed minister during negotiations that were to lead to the Treaty of Amiens (and a temporary halt in the ongoing war between France and Britain).

In 1805, during his brother’s temporary absence, George Jackson was presented at the Prussian court as charge d’affaires. The following year, he was sent to north Germany to oversee a renewal in friendly relations with Prussia, and, in 1807-1808, he helped with the negotiations and ratification of a new treaty with the Kingdom of Prussia. He was subsequently appointed as one of the secretaries of legation in the mission to the Spanish Junta.

Later, Jackson was posted to the headquarters of the allied armies in Germany throughout the campaigns of 1813-1814; finally entering Paris with the allies. On the return of the King of Prussia to Berlin, he was charge d’affaires to that court, remaining until 1816, when he was appointed to St Petersburg. Subsequently, he was sent to Madrid, and, from 1823 to 1827, he was posted to Washington, as commissioner, under the first article of the Treaty of Ghent, for the settlement of American claims.

After several years in Sierra Leone, as Commissary Judge, he was appointed, in 1832 (the year he was knighted), Chief Commissioner for the convention on the abolition of the African slave trade. This took him first to Rio Janeiro, until 1841, then to Surinam, and, from 1845, to St Paul de Loanda. He retired in 1859, having married only three years earlier; and he died at Boulogne-sur-Mer on 2 May 1861. There is very little information about Jackson online, not even a Wikipedia article - although there is one about his wife, Catherine, who went on to become author.

After Jackson’s death, Catherine edited her husband’s diaries and letters from when he was still a young man in the early days of his diplomatic career. These were published in 1872 by Richard Bentley in two volumes as The Diaries and Letters of Sir George Jackson K C H - From the Peace of Amiens to the Battle of Talavara. A year later, two more volumes were published: The Bath Archives - A Further Selection from the Diaries and Letters of Sir George Jackson K C H from 1809 to 1916.

Lady Jackson says in her introduction to the first volume: ‘The great interest taken by Mr G Jackson in public affairs, from the very outset of his career, and the especial advantage he possessed of a thorough diplomatic training, under his brother - a man of considerable talent, and distinction in his profession - give to the observations and opinions contained in the diaries and letters of this young attache, a certain value, as outlines of the events of the above-named period, which are traced, it is thought, with sufficient firmness to convey a fairly correct notion of the scenes depicted and the characters portrayed.’

Here is one long extract from Jackson’s diary (available at Internet Archive) about a Prince William getting married - though the royal family is Prussian, and the wedding took place in Berlin.

13 January 1804
‘Yesterday, the marriage of Prince William and the Princess Amelia took place at the palace. The royal diadem was placed on the head of the bride by the queen mother, in the presence of the royal family. They then went in procession to the state rooms, fitted up by Frederick I, and where all royal marriages are performed.

The prince, in the uniform of a Prussian general, with the princess, dressed in white satin and silver - four maids of honour bearing her train - walked first; the king, with the queen mother; the queen, with Prince Henry, and eight other royal couples followed. Each was preceded by gentlemen of their respective courts, and followed by their chief officers, with the maids of honour attending the royal ladies.

The procession passed through the old court chapel and the gallery - two hundred feet in length - to the White Hall, in which are the statues, in white marble, of the old electors.

Here the Court chaplain, M Sack, was waiting, under a canopy of red velvet, to perform the marriage ceremony. All the royal family, with the exception of the queen mother - for whom a velvet-covered chair was provided - stood in a half circle round the bride and bridegroom; the rest of the company formed a second half circle outside the royal one.

At the moment when the rings were exchanged, a signal was given, and the twenty-four cannon before the palace were fired in succession three times.

The Court then proceeded to the card-room, where the newly-married couple sat down to whist with the king and the queen mother. The Queen, Prince Henry, the bride’s mother - the Landgravine of Hesse - and the Prince of Orange, formed another table; the rest of the company made up four others. When they had finished their rubber, they adjourned to the state-room, and the royal party took supper; which was served on gold plate, and under a canopy of red velvet. During the repast a band of music was stationed in the silver orchestra. This orchestra is, in fact, only plated; the original one was of solid silver, but at the commencement of the Seven Years’ War, the Great Frederick, finding his coffers rather empty, melted it down for crowns, and supplied its place with the present one.

The meats served to the royal table were cut up by Generals Elsna and Beville - standing - and were afterwards distributed, or handed round, by the marshal, and officers of the Court, les grandes maƮtresses, and maids of honour. These menial offices are performed by them only on such exceptional occasions, and their duties end when the royal party have drunk their first glass, which, according to court etiquette, is always immediately after the first course is served. Their distinguished attendants then retire to take supper also, with the rest of the company, at adjoining tables. There were five of those extra tables, each presided over by a person of high rank.

Supper ended, they returned to the White Hall, and the ministers of state, each with a fourfold burning torch of white wax in his hand, assembled near the throne to await the arrival of the Court to commence the Fackel dance, with which the marriage ceremony concludes; a custom observed only at this Court, and supposed to have been originally intended to represent the Court of Hymen conducting the new-married pair to the nuptial chamber.

As soon as the royal party entered, the trumpets and kettle-drums of the king’s Garde du Corps, and the regiment of Gendarmes, struck up a sort of polonaise. The grand marshal, with his long black wand, led off first. The ministers, with their flaming torches, followed. Then came the prince and his wife, and the four maids of honour bearing the train. Slowly marching towards the royalties, ranged in a circle round the throne, the princess left the arm of her husband, and advancing towards the king, curtseyed profoundly, thus inviting him to make the first tour with her. This over, the same ceremony was gone through with all the princes, according to the order observed in the marriage procession. The prince then commenced his tours, first with the queen mother, then the queen, and all the princesses in succession; the ministers, with their hymeneal torches, preceding each couple. To some of the festive torch-bearers these numerous tours seemed to be tours de force they were hardly equal to; and they must surely have succumbed if Providence had not spared them the minuets with which they at first were threatened. But at length the tours were ended; and the royal bride and bridegroom were then escorted to their apartments to undress; the former by the queen mother and the other royal ladies, the latter by the king and princes.

When the princess was supposed to be in bed, the company assembled in the ante-room to receive from her grande maĆ®tresse small pieces of embroidered riband, representing her royal highness’s garter.

Thus ended this royal wedding, which put me in mind of an old drama, got up with new scenery, dresses, processions, banquets, trumpets, kettle- drums, &c, &c.

We take our share of the general fuss, and celebrate the happy event by a ball on the 18th.’