Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Elizabeth at Hope End

Today marks 150 years since the death of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, a popular poet in her time, who was married to Robert Browning, another significant poet of the era. The only diary material of Barrett’s that has been published relates to a period in her 20s when she was still living with her father on the Hope End estate in Herefordshire. Her diary at the time is full of concerns about having to move from Hope End, which was being sold to pay family debts, and about her friendship with the blind classical scholar Hugh Stuart Boyd.

Elizabeth Barrett was born in 1806 at Coxhoe Hall, Durham, but moved to Hope End, a 500-acre estate near Ledbury in Herefordshire, when only three. The eldest in a large family she was educated at home, learning classics and several modern languages. When 13, her father arranged to have one of her epic poems (The Battle of Marathon) printed. When 15, she suffered a bad fall and injured her spine. Subsequently, poor health meant she devoted most of her time to reading and writing.

In her early 20s, Barrett became friends with a classicist, Hugh Stuart Boyd, who had moved into a house nearby. In 1828, her mother died, and, during the following years, her father’s income (based on Jamaican sugar plantations) declined badly. The family sold Hope End, and moved first to Sidmouth in 1832, then, three years later, to London. In 1838 Barrett published her first major book, The Seraphim and Other Poems, which received critical acclaim. The same year she went to stay in Torquay, Devon, for health reasons, and it was there that her favourite brother, Edward, drowned. The accident caused her much distress. Eventually, she returned to London where her reputation as a poet continued to grow.

In 1844, the poet Robert Browning began a correspondence with her, which led to an engagement in 1845, and, because her father disapproved, a secret marriage in 1846. The couple went to Italy where Elizabeth’s health improved, where she had a son, and where she stayed for the rest of her life. She died in Florence on 29 June 1861. Further biographical information can be found at Wikipedia, The Victorian Web, or The Browning Society.

A first edition of Barrett’s diary did not appear before 1969, when Ohio University Press published Diary by E. B. B.: The Unpublished Diary of Elizabeth Barrett Barrett 1831-1832 edited by Philip Kelley and Ronald Hudson. Five years later, in 1974, John Murray published The Barretts at Hope End - The Early Diary of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, edited by Elizabeth Berridge.

Here are two extracts from The Barretts at Hope End.

11 June 1831
‘Sam told me that Hope End is advertised in the Sun newspaper, to be sold in August - no name, but a full description. He & Bro heard it yesterday from Henry Trant!. I begged him to tell nobody, & to let me tell Bummy [Arabella Graham-Clarke, Elizabeth’s aunt]. Ran down stairs & found Bummy in the drawing room by herself. Told her. She shed tears - we both shed tears! When will tears cease to be shed? She seems to fear the worst: but mentioned that Papa had written to Sam, who, he says, is able to assist him. If he is able, he is willing - if he is still Sam! So there may still be hope in that quarter. There is fear in every other. In every other? Can I not still look unto the hill from whence cometh my hope? That hope is a hope of spiritual blessing; but I have found & known it to be one of temporal comfort also! Walked out with Bummy & Arabel, on the bank on the other side of the water. Strangers may soon walk there, with other feelings than mine. Read as I have often done lately, not for the pleasure of thinking: but for the comfort of not thinking. Papa in better spirits. How often I thought of Mr Boyd today! He is the only person in this neighbourhood, whom it will affect my happiness to leave. . .’

26 August 1831
‘Read some passages from Shelley’s Revolt of Islam before I was up. He is a great poet; but we acknowledge him to be a great poet as we acknowledge Spenser to be so, & do not love him for it. He resembles Spenser in one thing, & one thing only, that his poetry is too immaterial for our sympathies to enclasp it firmly. It reverses the lot of human plants: its roots are in the air, not earth! But as I read him, I may reverse my opinion. . .

Let me consider circumstances, while I am calm, in a degree. I may have to leave this place where I have walked & talked & dreamt in much joy; & where I have heard most beloved voices which I can no more hear, & clasped beloved hands which I can no more clasp: where I have smiled with the living & wept above the dead & where I have immortal books, & written pleasant thoughts, & known at least one very dear friend . . . I will wait for letters, & in the meantime, get on with Isocrates.

Thank God!. Hope End, dear Hope End, is not sold. It was bought in by our antagonists themselves; & may yet go by private contract: but still, thank God for this reprieve. A letter from Papa!

I was in the dining room. Bummy came in to me with overflowing eyes, & an exclamation of “Good news!” The good news were too much for me, prepared as I was for the worst news: and I should have sunk to the floor, if she had not caught me. Thank God for this blessed good news! Many tears were shed, & all for joy, at Hope End today.’

Friday, June 24, 2011

Diary briefs

New Che Guevara diary published in Cuba (see also Che’s last days) - BBC, The Guardian

Arrested Maoist’s diary reveals top secrets - The Times of India

Obscene Diary: The Secret Archive of Samuel Steward - PRWeb

Diaries expose missionaries’ ‘spiritual war’ on uncontacted Indians - Survival International

University of Iowa puts civil war diaries online - University of Iowa

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A terrible ordeal

One hundred years ago today, the British people were celebrating the coronation of King George V and his wife Queen Mary. Both George and Mary kept diaries, and although these have not been published, a few extracts are in the public domain, including some about their Coronation Day. In one, George calls the day ‘a terrible ordeal’ - though without further explanation.

George V, born in 1865, was the second son of Edward VII. He served in the Royal Navy from the age of 12 until 1892 when he became heir to the throne on the early death of his elder brother Albert (from pneumonia). The following year, he married Princess Victoria Mary of Teck, known as May, who had previously been engaged to Albert. They became Duke and Duchess of York and lived on the Sandringham Estate, in Norfolk. They had six children - Edward, George, Mary, Henry, George and John. The eldest two went on to become King, although Edward held the crown for less than a year before abdicating in favour of George (VI).

George V succeeded to the throne when King Edward VII died in May 1910, though his coronation did not follow until the following summer, on 22 June 1911. A film of the event can be seen at the British Path√© website. According to The Royal Collection website, the crowning of the Sovereign at the start of a new reign is ‘an ancient ceremony, rich in religious significance, pageantry and historic associations’, and has changed little in form since medieval times. To mark the 50th anniversary of the Coronation of Her Majesty The Queen, in 2003, a special exhibition was held at Windsor Castle. Among the items on display were the personal records of several monarchs: Queen Victoria’s sketchbook filled with her drawings of the day’s events, a press release at the time said, and ‘a poignant extract from the diary of King George V’ describing how his coronation ‘brought back many sad memories of 9 years ago when the Beloved Parents were crowned’.

There do not appear to be any published versions of George V’s diary. Robert Lacey, in his biography, Royal: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, which contains a generous section of historical background, might provide an explanation: ‘Every day of his adult life, King George V dutifully wrote up his diary - unlike his father, who never kept one. Edward VII had better things to do at bedtime. Bound in successive volumes of green leather, the diary of King George V is the journal of a very ordinary man, containing a great deal more about his hobby of stamp collecting than it does about his personal feelings, with a heavy emphasis on the weather. The simple, round schoolboy hand scarcely changes from the age of fifteen, when he started it, until the last entry, completed three days before his death . . .’

Nevertheless, some excerpts dating from the early days of the Great War were broadcast in 2004 for the first time by BBC Radio Four in its Book of the Week slot. This was by special permission from the Queen to mark the 90th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War.

Nor is there a published version of Queen Mary’s diary - see an earlier Diary Review article about one extract (Princess Mary’s marathon). However, in his widely-respected biography, Queen Mary, James Pope-Hennessy draws extensively on diary material, particular Mary’s own diaries, but also occasionally her husband’s. Here is Pope-Hennessy, in the biography, looking back at that Coronation Day.

‘Although it improved later in the summer, the weather of June 1911 was windy and cool. Frequent rainstorms had been causing the London public, and the vendors of seats on the stands set up along the coronation processional route, some disquiet. In the whole month of June there were only five good days. Coronation Day, the twenty-second, was not amongst them. “Dull but fine - Our Coronation Day”, Queen Mary recorded in her Diary. King George’s comment in his Diary was longer, but it was equally characteristic: “It was overcast and cloudy with slight showers, & a strongish cool breeze, but better for the people than great heat.” The weather of Coronation Day, 1911, thus formed a sharp, symbolic contrast to that of the July morning, eighteen years before, when Princess May had, for the first time in her life, driven in state from Buckingham Palace as the central figure of a carriage procession. She was then driving to be married at the Chapel Royal; we may recall the sparkling sunshine of that July morning, and the cheers of the surging crowds. Her prospects then had seemed gay and exciting; her prospects now were a lifetime of dedication and responsibility. The overcast sky suited her serious mood.’

Pope-Hennessy goes on to describe other differences between the two occasions, before then returning to the diaries, and the entries for 22 June 1911.

Queen Mary: ‘Magnificent reception both going & coming back.’

King George V: ‘There were hundreds of thousands of people who gave us a magnificent reception. . . The service in the Abbey was most beautiful & impressive but it was a terrible ordeal. . . Darling May looked so lovely & it was indeed a comfort to me to have her by my side as she has been ever to me during these last 18 years.’

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Goose Lane Editions

Goose Lane Editions, a Canadian publishing company founded in 1954 and said to be one of the country’s most exciting showcases of home-grown literary talent, has, in the last couple of years, published several intriguing diaries. Those of Tappan Adney record his wonderings in the New Brunswick wilderness, in particular with exquisite details of birds, birchbark canoes and a caribou hunt; while the diary of Robert Wyse describes, in all too gruesome detail, what life was like in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.

Adney was born in Ohio in 1868, but moved to New York as a teenager where he worked in a law office by day, while attending art classes by night. In 1887, he first went to Canada, with his sister, to stay for a few weeks with friends, the Sharp family, in Upper Woodstock, New Brunswick. However, having taken to the outdoor life there, he stayed on for nearly two years.

In 1897, Adney went back to Canada, this time to the west, lured to the Klondike Gold Rush as a special correspondent for Harper’s Weekly. He married Minnie Bell Sharp in 1899; and, in 1900, Harper published Adney’s photos and text in The Klondike Stampede. That same year, he returned to the north to record the gold rush in Nome, Alaska.

During the war, Adney joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and constructed scale models of fortifications for training purposes. In 1917, he became a Canadian citizen; and, after the war, he became widely known for his knowledge of decorative historical heraldry and the 3D shields he created for the Canadian provinces. He put forward a design for a Canadian national flag which won a competition but was not adopted; and he built more than 150 models of native canoes, now housed in Mariner’s Museum, Newport, Virginia.

As Adney grew older, Yukon News says, his behaviour and demeanour became more eccentric, to the point where he was seen shambling around Woodstock like a hobo. He died in 1950 in his tiny forest bungalow surrounded by notes, drawings and models. Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia and Jim Wheaton’s web page.

As a young man, amazed by all he saw in Canada, Adney began filling notebooks with his diary jottings and other observations. He recorded, for example, the details of snowshoes, and birchbark canoes, and the native names for birds and animals. He also chronicled a caribou hunt on snowshoes in winter conditions, decades before woodland caribou became extinct in eastern Canada. Some of his notes were published, for the first time, last September by Goose Lane Editions, a New Brunswick-based publishing company, under the title The Travel Journals of Tappan Adney: 1887-1890.

Goose Lane Editions, established more than 50 years ago, describes itself as ‘a small, lively company’ and ‘Canada’s oldest independent publisher’ which ‘successfully combines a regional heart with a national profile to introduce readers to work by the best established and emerging authors.’

The Travel Journals of Tappan Adney: 1887-1890 was edited by C Ted Behne, another builder of model birchbark canoes and an Adney enthusiast. According to Goose Lane, the book is the first published version of Adney’s earliest two journals, though he would write three more before his last in 1896. Though beautifully produced and full of reproductions of Adney’s original sketches and early photographs, there are relatively few in-the-moment diary entries - the bulk of the text being more retrospective recordings of his journeys, observations and thoughts. Here, though, are a few dated entries from early on in the book.

4 July 1887
‘An excursion of the Natural History Society [from New York City] to Manawagonish Island in the Bay of Fundy off Saint John. Thirty of us went along in two small yachts. Manawagonish Island [is] a rocky island covered with dense, stunted spruce and a small clearing where some sheep were browsing. Dense fog swept in, enveloping all things with reeking, dripping moisture, shutting out all things but the tinkle of a sheep bell, the murmuring of the waves on the beach, and the voices of a few hardy birds. Strong, clear, like a flute in the hands of a master, the Hermit thrush - a pathos that is known to no other bird. There is no song of more pure beauty, and one must come here or listen in the early morn in some far New Brunswick wilderness, to hear this, the most beautiful of bird music. I found the nest, containing four blue-green eggs, on the ground, among the cool, damp mosses and luxuriant ferns. The fog was so thick we could hardly find our way back to the harbor.

5 July 1887
‘An early walk with Mr. Chamberlain and noted three new species of birds. It was marvelous to me how Chamberlain could identify from a single note that [which] would have escaped me altogether.’

6 July 1887
‘Mr. Chamberlain was to give a lecture before the Society and wanted some fresh birds, so I went out back of the city and found myself in wild woods. I poked about in a dense cedar swamp. The usual fog came in. I lost my bearings and walked in a circle until I remembered that the wind was probably constant. Then I took a course by the wind and got out. Thankfully, I got a crow for the lecture.’

8 July 1887
‘Took passage aboard a small side[-]wheel steamer, the David Weston for Fredericton up the river. Next morning, arrived at the capit[a]l. . . I sketched the curious wood boats, two-masted schooners with tremendous sheer forward, loaded on deck with deals so that the hull[s] of the boats were actually submerged, all but the high nose of the bow. They came down wing-and-wing under a northwest breeze. Going back, it is said they make better time than the steamer. Here at Fredericton were the booms with their enormous quantities of logs from up river.

There was a tall bank of sawdust several miles below the city, and I went there and found hundreds of Bank swallows nesting in the face of the heap, which was as hard and firm as a bank of sand. I got several sets of eggs.’

* * *

Another recent Goose Lane diary volume concerns Robert Wyse. He was born in 1900, in Newcastle, New Brunswick, into a prosperous family, one of six children. The family soon moved to Moncton, 100 miles or so south, but also in New Brunswick. Robert was too young to serve in the early years of First World War, but managed to sign up for the RAF in 1918 - though he did not see any action. Twenty years later, he left New Brunswick, partly to escape an unhappy marriage (from which he had one son, Robert) and travelled to England where he joined the RAF, and trained as a gunner. After a year, he switched to work as a flight controller; and then, with Squadron 232, he found himself in the Far East.

Following a mis-handled Allied campaign on Sumatra, and a retreat to Java, Wyse, along with many tens of thousands of Allied troops, was captured by Japanese forces. He spent over three years a prisoner of war before being liberated in the late summer of 1945. Thereafter, he was hospitalised before returning home in late 1946. He divorced his first wife, and married Laura Teakles with whom he had a daughter, Ruth. However, his health never fully recovered, and he died in 1967.

Although prisoners of war were forbidden to keep diaries, Wyse did write a journal during his incarceration, hiding it in a bamboo pole beside his bed, for over two years. When the practice became too dangerous, he buried his notes (just as others did, including the more famous diarist in the same camp, Laurens van der Post). After the war, he managed to arrange for his notes to be returned to Canada where he and Laura’s sister transcribed them to a typescript. The original notes no longer exist, but Jonathan F Vance, professor of history at the University of Western Ontario, edited the typscript (deleting passages added after the war) for publication by Goose Lane as Bamboo Cage - The P.O.W. Diary of Flight Lieutenant Robert Wyse, 1942‐1943.

This is, in fact, the 13th volume in a series of Goose Lane books for the New Brunswick Military Heritage Series. Initiated in 2000 by the Military and Strategic Studies Program of the University of New Brunswick, its purpose is to inform the public of ‘the remarkable military heritage of the province, and to stimulate further research, education and publication in the field’.

Here are a few extracts from Bamboo Cage.

1 September 1942
‘Hurried in to lorries at 10 a.m. and departed shortly after, no waiting around with the Japanese. Lovely drive through thickly populated country to Soerabaja, the largest sea port in Java. Our prison here is a former race course and fair grounds, thick concrete walls, sentry boxes at the four corners, and guards perpetually patrolling through the atap huts. Every Nippon guard seen even at a great distance must be saluted or bowed to, and one must stand rigidly at attention until they are out of sight. Another search of our meagre possessions on arrival, very thorough and much more of our stuff taken. Saw a small British flag being stamped on. About 1,000 British troops here already, about 3,000 Dutch, some Australian, American, and all other nationalities represented. Managed to get some bed space on some bamboo raised up from the ground, most of the troops on the ground here, but it is the dry season.’

2 September 1942
‘Practically no outside labour here. The camp is horribly dusty and dirty but fortunately there are a few showers. The bog holes are a seething mass of microbe life. Wing Commander Cave’s party went to Batavia in March and they are here now, many officers and men that I knew. P/O Shutes ... offers 5 guilders for my lighter. Woodford advises me to keep it for a better price.’

3 September 1942
‘Getting used to it but this is pretty hard living. Food even worse than at Malang and not so good for a Westerner. Small piece [of] bread in the morning with a cup of tea, bread very heavy and soggy. Lunch, boiled rice. It is generally too well cooked, naturally with no sugar, salt, or milk. Supper, steamed rice, a small ladle of stew (so called), no fat, no sugar. With a cup of tea, no accessories. That’s all there is, there ain’t no more. At the canteen you can buy cigarettes only - understand they used to sell tea and coffee.’

4 September 1942
‘At noon today informed of another move, don’t know where but think old English to be sorted out and confined together. Trying to sell my lighter at any price, sorry I didn’t take the five guilders, am stone broke. The Nippons had allowed us to keep some of our English iron rations. Now the C.O. is giving us each a share. I had a share in a can of apples, a small spoonful, a half a can of bully beef and an eighth of a tin of potatoes - that, with my noontime ration, √† la Dai Nippon, made one good bellyful. . .

There is damn-all charity between the British prisoners of war. Never in all my life have I seen such examples of selfishness. There was a riot over a case of corned beef, several boys injured. [Just] a spirit of ‘the hell with you, jack, I am looking after myself.’ Officers and men alike sit in front of others and fairly gloat over food that they have been able to purchase. When the capitulation came, huge impresses were handed out to officers for disbursement and the common good, [but] large sums of it remain in their own pockets and those of their friends. Tonight I sold a pair of socks, a gift, which I do not need, for 2; also a half cupful of petrol for 1. Our atap huts present a lively spectacle tonight as the Dutch come from all over to buy up the few remaining possessions of the English. I don’t know who wins. Our lads need the money for food, they certainly don’t need many clothes in this climate, but we have been at great pains to issue them with shirts and shorts to cover their nakedness, and the minute they get a new shirt off they go to see how many guilders they can get, guilders of course representing food.’

Many thanks to Goose Lane Editions for permission to quote from both their books, and for use of the two portrait photographs.