Thursday, August 25, 2011

Diary briefs

Diaries of foreign A-bomb survivors on display at Hiroshima museum - Japan Times

Portfolios of the Poor - National Catholic Reporter, Amazon

British Museum to host hajj exhibition - BBC

Confederate soldier’s diaries go to Washington and Lee University - Washington Post

Australian search for lost indigenous languages - AFP

More diaries from Chris Mullin - The Guardian, The Spectator, Daily Mail

Richard Pococke’s travels abroad (see also The Highland manners) - Pococke Press

Brunel archive, including diaries, on show at Bristol docks - The Guardian, UK Series

Monday, August 15, 2011

Death of a bandit

Walter Scott, one of Britain’s greatest writers and the first to gain international celebrity status, was born 240 years ago today. His novels - such as Ivanhoe - and poetry are still widely read today, but his diaries, though still in print and considered by some to be a ‘superb work’, are less well known. They cover only the last years of his life. In the very first entry, Scott explains how he came to be inspired to start writing a journal; and, in another entry, a few months before his death, the adventure writer in him is anxious to record details he has heard about a notorious bandit.

Scott was born in Edinburgh, on 15 August 1771; but, when only 18 months old, he contracted polio, which left him lame for the rest of his life. He trained as a lawyer, like his father, but without much commitment. He did work in his father’s office for a while, but preferred to travel, and to read. In 1797, he married Margaret Charlotte Carpenter, from a French Royalist family, even though he knew very little about her. They lived happily to her death, a few years before his own, and had four children. Also in 1797, Scott first volunteered for the Royal Edinburgh light dragoons, and acted as its secretary and quartermaster.

Scott’s career in writing began with translations of German Gothic romances; he then produced his own ballads, such as The Lay of the Last Minstrel and The Lady of the Lake, which proved immensely popular. He also worked on new editions of writings by Dryden and Swift. In the 1810s, Scott turned to novels, and found a new level of success with, what became known as, his Waverley novels, including Rob Roy and Ivanhoe among many others. However, these novels were published anonymously, and though some reviewers were identifying him as the author from the first, he continued denying the fact until 1827.

The income from his popular novels gave Scott the wherewithal to build a mansion in the Scottish borders, 35 miles southeast of Edinburgh, which he called Abbotsford. By 1820, when he was knighted, Scott was a celebrity and important public figure. He organised the visit of King George IV to Scotland in 1822. He helped created the Edinburgh Academy. He was chairman of the Edinburgh Oil Gas Company in 1824, was a governor of the Scottish Union, and an extraordinary director of the Edinburgh Life Assurance Company.

In 1826, though, his world collapsed with one of the worst financial crises of the century. Not only did he have the financial burden of Abbotsford, but the bankruptcies of his publisher and printer, left Scott in financial ruin. Rather than declaring bankruptcy himself, he worked hard for the rest of his life to repay his debts - to the detriment, some say, of his later novels, which were, in modern parlance, churned out. He died in 1832, having cleared around three-quarters of his debt (the rest was partly repaid through the sale of his copyrights), and almost all the newspapers - according to his biographer J G Lockhart - ‘had the signs of mourning usual on the demise of a king’. Further biographical information is available at Edinburgh University’s Walter Scott Digital Archive.

In 1837-1838, John Gibson Lockhart, who married Scott’s daughter Sophia and was editor of the Quarterly Review, published the seven volume Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott. He was only able to write the lengthy, and much respected, biography because he had inherited the rights to all of Scott’s literary remains, including a wealth of letters and two volumes of a diary which Scott wrote from 1825 until his death. Lockhart explained, in the biography, he could not use the diary as freely as he might have wished ‘by regard for the feelings of living persons’. It was not until 1890, that the full manuscript was published, by David Douglas in two volumes, as The Journal of Sir Walter Scott.

David Hewitt writing Scott’s entry for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography says of the journal: ‘[Scott] is endlessly interesting; he records what he had been doing; he comments acutely on what goes on around him; he works out intellectual positions; he analyses himself; he lays himself out on the page. The Journal is a superb work, but its greatness is ultimately due to an accident of timing. It opens with Scott at the height of his fame and prosperity. Within six months he was ruined and his wife was dead. He undertook to repay all his debts, and the Journal records how a heroic decision to do right and to act well gradually destroyed him mentally and physically.’

An 1890 set of both volumes can be bought from Abebooks for as little as £20; and there are many more modern reprints available. The text of the 1890 version is also freely available at Internet Archive (as is Lockhart’s biography).

Here is the start of the first entry in Scott’s journal.

20 November 1825
‘I have all my life regretted that I did not keep a regular Journal. I have myself lost recollection of much that was interesting, and I have deprived my family and the public of some curious information, by not carrying this resolution into effect. I have bethought me, on seeing lately some volumes of Byron’s notes, that he probably had hit upon the right way of keeping such a memorandum-book, by throwing aside all pretence to regularity and order, and marking down events just as they occurred to recollection. I will try this plan; and behold I have a handsome locked volume, such as might serve for a lady’s album. Nota bene, John Lockhart, and Anne, and I are to raise a Society for the suppression of Albums. It is a most troublesome shape of mendicity. Sir, your autograph, a line of poetry, or a prose sentence! Among all the sprawling sonnets, and blotted trumpery that dishonours these miscellanies, a man must have a good stomach that can swallow this botheration as a compliment.’

And here is one of the last entries, written a few months before his death. It seems an appropriate extract to use, given Scott’s legacy as one of the world great writers of adventure stories.

15 April 1832
‘Naples. I am on the eve of leaving Naples after a residence of three or four months, my strength strongly returning, though the weather has been very uncertain. What with the interruption occasioned by the cholera and other inconveniences, I have not done much. I have sent home only the letters by L. L. Stuart and three volumes of the Siege of Malta. I sent them by Lord Cowper’s son Mr. Cowper returning, his leave being out and two chests of books by the Messrs. Turner, Malta, who are to put them on board a vessel, to be forwarded to Mr. Cadell through “Whittaker. I have hopes they will come to hand safe. I have bought a small closing carriage, warranted new and English, cost me 200, for the convenience of returning home. It carries Anne, Charles, and the two servants, and we start to-morrow morning for Home, after which we shall be starting homeward, for the Greek scheme is blown up, as Sir Frederick Adam is said to be going to Madras, so he will be unable to send a frigate as promised. I have spent on the expenses of medical persons and books, etc., a large sum, yet not excessive.

Meantime we [may] have to add a curious journey of it. The brigands, of whom there are so many stories, are afloat once more, and many carriages stopped. A curious and popular work would be a history of these ruffians. Washington Irving has attempted something of the kind, but the person attempting this should be an Italian, perfectly acquainted with his country, character, and manners. Mr. R , an apothecary, told me a singular [occurrence] which happened in Calabria about six years ago, and which I may set down just now as coming from a respectable authority, though I do not [vouch it].

This man was called, from his wily but inexorable temper, Il Bizarro, i.e. the Bizar. He was captain of a gang of banditti, whom he governed by his own authority, till he increased them to 1,000 men, both on foot and horseback, whom he maintained in the mountains of Calabria, between the French and Neapolitans, both of which he defied, and pillaged the country. High rewards were set upon his head, to very little purpose, as he took care to guard himself against being betrayed by his own gang, the common fate of those banditti who become great in their vocation. At length a French colonel, whose name I have forgot, occupied the country of Bizarro, with such success that he formed a cordon around him and his party, and included him between the folds of a military column.

Well-nigh driven to submit himself, the robber with his wife, a very handsome woman, and a child of a few months old, took a position beneath the arch of an old bridge, and, by an escape almost miraculous, were not perceived by a strong party whom the French maintained on the top of the arch. Night at length came without a discovery, which every moment might have made. When it became quite dark, the brigand, enjoining strictest silence on the female and child, resolved to steal from his place of shelter, and as they issued forth, kept his hand on the child’s throat. But as, when they began to move, the child naturally cried, its father in a rage stiffened his grip so relentlessly that the poor infant never offended more in the same manner. This horrid [act] led to the conclusion of the robber’s life.

His wife had never been very fond of him, though he trusted her more than any who approached him. She had been originally the wife of another man, murdered by her second husband, which second marriage she was compelled to undergo, and to affect at least the conduct of an affectionate wife. In their wanderings she alone knew where he slept for the night. He left his men in a body upon the top of an open hill, round which they set watches. He then went apart into the woods with his wife, and having chosen a glen an obscure and deep thicket of the woods, there took up his residence for the night. A large Calabrian sheepdog, his constant attendant, was then tied to a tree at some distance to secure his slumbers, and having placed his carabine within reach of his lair, he consigned himself to such sleep as belongs to his calling. By such precautions he had secured his rest for many years.

But after the death of the child, the measure of his offence towards the unhappy mother was full to the brim, and her thoughts became determined on revenge. One evening he took up his quarters for the night with these precautions, but without the usual success. He had laid his carabine near him, and betaken himself to rest as usual, when his partner arose from his side, and ere he became sensible she had done so, she seized [his carabine], and discharging [it] in his bosom, ended at once his life and crimes.

She finished her work by cutting off the brigand’s head, and carrying it to the principal town of the province, where she delivered it to the police, and claimed the reward attached to his head, which was paid accordingly. This female still lives, a stately, dangerous-looking woman, yet scarce ill thought of, considering the provocation. The dog struggled extremely to get loose on hearing the shot. Some say the female shot it; others that, in its rage, it very nearly gnawed through the stout young tree to which it was tied. He was worthy of a better master. The distant encampment of the band was disturbed by the firing of the Bizarro’s carabine at midnight. They ran through the woods to seek the captain, but finding him lifeless and headless, they became so much surprised that many of them surrendered to the government, and relinquished their trade, and the band of Bizarro, as it lived by his ingenuity, broke up by his death.

A story is told nearly as horrible as the above, respecting the cruelty of this bandit, which seems to entitle him to be called one of the most odious wretches of his name. A French officer, who had been active in the pursuit of him, fell into his hands, and was made to die [the death] of Marsyas or Saint Polycarp that is, the period being the middle of summer, he was flayed alive, and, being smeared with honey, was exposed to all the intolerable insects of a southern sky. The corps were also informed where they might find their officer if they thought proper to send for him. As more than two days elapsed before the wretched man was found, nothing save his miserable relics could be discovered.

I do not warrant these stories, but such are told currently.’

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sports of the people

It is thirty years to the day that Sir Alan, or Tommy, Lascelles died. He served as a royal courtier for most of his professional life, rising to become Private Secretary to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II. His name is remembered today for it was given to a set of conditions he envisaged - The Lascelles Principles - which should allow a Sovereign to refuse a Prime Minister’s request to dissolve Parliament. But he also left behind some diaries, all the more interesting for their glimpses into privileged drawing rooms.

Lascelles was born at Sutton Waldron House, Dorset, in 1887 the son of Commander Frederick Canning Lascelles and Frederica Maria Liddell. He studied at Marlborough College and Oxford, before serving as a cavalry officer in the Bedford Yeomanry during the First World War, and subsequently becoming Aide-de-Camp to Lord Lloyd, the Governor of Bombay. On returning to England in 1920, he married Joan Frances Vere Thesiger with whom he had three children, and he was appointed Assistant Private Secretary to the Prince of Wales.

In the first half of the 1930s, Lascelles was secretary to the Governor General of Canada. Between 1935 and 1942, he served King George V and King George VI as Assistant Private Secretary; and from 1943 to 1953 he served King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II as Private Secretary. He was also Keeper of the Royal Archives. Towards the end of his professional life, in 1950, he wrote a now-famous letter to The Times setting out the conditions under which the Sovereign could wisely refuse a request of the Prime Minister to dissolve Parliament - later these became known as The Lascelles Principles.

After retiring in 1953, Lascelles became chairman of the Historic Buildings Council for England, chairman of the Pilgrim Trust, and a director of the Midland Bank. He also held the office of Extra Equerry to Elizabeth II until his death, on 10 August 1981. For further information see Wikipedia or

Lascelles kept a diary all his life, and extracts from these were published, along with a selection of letters, in several volumes between 1986 and 2006. The first two - End of an Era: Letters and Journals of Sir Alan Lascelles 1887-1920 and In Royal Service: the Letters and Journals of Sir Alan Lascelles 1920-1936 - were published by Hamilton in the 1980s. Another volume - King’s Counsellor - Abdication and War: the Diaries of ‘Tommy’ Lascelles - was published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in 2006. All three volumes were edited by Duff Hart-Davis.

John Adamson in the Sunday Telegraph said, of the most recent volume, Lascelles’ diary ‘offers fascinating and hitherto unseen glimpses of some of the most significant figures of our age . . . however, none emerges more engagingly than the diarist himself’. And Dominic Sandbrook in the Evening Standard called the book ‘an elegant and precise diary’ which provides ‘a revealing glimpse into the drawing rooms of the great during the years of crisis and victory’.

Here are a few extracts from End of an Era, in which a youthful Lascelles shows a lively sense of interest in women, other diarist, and poking fun at authority!

16 May 1908
‘Lunched in Cadogan Square, and Cynthia Charteris and Mary Vesey came on to the theatre with us. Really, I believe those two are the most perfectly beautiful pair of creatures on this earth. Cynthia is at present the lovelier of the two, but won’t be in five years’ time. Now her beauty simply strikes one like a blow the moment she enters the room - and the more one looks, the more perfect it grows. But Mary V. is far the nicer of the two; she is a person of decided opinions, and with the most delightfully impulsive manner.’

For more on the diarist Cynthia Charteris see Heartbreaking day and The Diary Junction.

27 June 1911
‘The Coronation; up at cock-crow and escorted Maud to our seats in Montagu House. I marvelled that people should have given themselves so much trouble for so singularly unimpressive a ceremony. Dined v. happily at Brooks’s with Edward; and then on through crowded streets to Downing Street, where we picked up the Prime Minister, his entire family, D. [Lister], Kath, Venetia Stanely etc. Escorted by a policeman and a detective who spoke seven languages and never opened his mouth in one of them, we plunged into Pall Mall and wondered for hours looking at the illuminations and trying to extract humour from an annoyingly sober and ordered crowd. At Trafalgar Square the PM when home to bed, and we could join more freely in the sports of the people. I had hoped someone would have recognised him and started a demonstration but except for one man who exclaimed, ‘There’s Asquith - I should like to go and break his head,’ he excited no feeling. It was fun singing Gourdouli all down the Strand, and I nearly got run in for putting a paper cap on a policeman’s helmet, and was only saved by the intervention of our escort. Poor man, he was heartily ashamed of us.’

For another diary view of that Coronation Day see - A terrible ordeal

23 October 1911
‘Up to London . . . to Callow’s shop, where I told them to send rather a jolly hunting-whip to Diana [Lister], and, as Samuel Pepys observed piously on similar occasions, I pray God do make me able to pay for it.’

21 November 1919
‘ ‘W N P Barbellion’ is dead. This must be a shock to many reviewers, who, when The Journal of a Disappointed Man appeared, with a preface by H G Wells, said, ‘You can’t deceive us. Wells wrote this book himself’. But it seems you can, for a man called Bruce Cummings wrote it, and, as I say, he’s dead, at the age of 30.’

For more on the diarist Barbellion see The lure of birds’ eggs and The Diary Junction.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Diary briefs

Norway killings: Breivik’s diary - The Telegraph

From Military Zone 5 - Vietnam war diary - Vietnam News

Camus killed by KGB, Czech diary indicates - Prague Daily Monitor

New Zealand columnist on diaries - Sunday Star Times

A mother’s confession to killing her baby - Toronto Sun

Orthodox Jew buys Mengele’s diaries - Haaretz, Haaretz, European Jewish Press

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Love the sinner

Lord Longford, the politician and would-be social reformer, died a decade ago today. For much of his later life, he seemed out of sync with public opinion, whether because of his stance against the gay rights movement or his early campaign for the release of Myra Hyndley, who, with Ian Brady, murdered five young persons in the mid-1960s. A collection of diary entries from the last years of his life, in the 1990s, show how committed Longford remained to Hyndley’s release, and to the idea of hating the sin but loving the sinner.

Francis, or Frank, Pakenham was born at Pakenham Castle, Northern Ireland, educated at Eton and at New College, Oxford, where he shared digs with Hugh Gaitskell. Aged 25, he went to research education policy for the Conservative Party, but this experience only served to lead him towards socialism. For a while, he also worked as a teacher, a don at Oxford, and wrote leaders for the Daily Mail.

In 1931, Pakenham married Elizabeth Harman with whom he had eight children - several of whom today are well-known writers (Antonia Fraser, for example, and Rachel Billington). In 1936, he was beaten while protesting at a Mosleyite meeting. In 1939, he joined the Territorial Army but was invalided out. Also in the 1930s, he joined the Labour Party and converted, with his wife, to Roman Catholicism.

After the war, Pakenham failed to win the Oxford parliamentary seat for Labour, but was made Baron Pakenham of Cowley and appointed a junior minister in the Labour government of 1946-1951. Subsequently, in the 1960s, Pakenham was Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords, and Secretary of State for the Colonies. In 1961, he inherited from his brother the Irish titles of Earl of Longford and Baron Longford and the UK title of Baron Silchester. He was created a Knight of the Garter in 1971.

Pakenham was a prolific author, writing on religious and biographical topics, and he was a noted prison visitor. This latter activity led him, in particular, to a long-term and highly controversial campaign to have the Moors murderer Myra Hindley released from prison. He also courted further public controversy with his negative positions on homosexuality. He died on 3 August 2001. Further biographical information can be gathered from The Guardian or BBC obituaries or from Wikipedia.

At the behest of his publisher, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, Lord Longford kept a diary for the calendar year 1981, and this was published the following year as Diary of a Year. In 2000, Lion Publishing brought out a volume called Lord Longford’s Prison Diary based on diaries he wrote between 1995 and 1999. The book is, the publisher says, not only ‘a witness to his extraordinary commitment to and compassion for prisoners, but also a disturbing insight into what goes on in British jails in the name of justice’. Visits to well-known prisoners - Hindley and Brady, mass murderer Denis Nilsen, and spy Michael Bettany - are recorded, as are visits to sex offenders, rapists and conmen, whose names are only known to their victims.

More from the publisher’s burb: ‘Longford, more than any other outsider understands the criminal psyche. He remains one of the few public figures with a belief in the power of prison reform, but also believes that too many people are sent to prison who could be more effectively helped outside. This diary constitutes powerful evidence for his view.’ Here are two extracts.

3 December 1995
‘Yesterday one newspaper carried a prominent piece which was headed, ‘Hindley Will Make West Feel Life is Worth Living, Says Longford’. I am being asked continually if I am going to visit Rosemary West and give the same answer: I have never yet refused to visit a prisoner who requested a visit and I never will. If Rose West wishes to see me I will certainly go.

At the moment of writing, Rose West is in the hospital wing of Durham Prison, as is Myra. Myra broke her leg some time ago, and according to the paper she is being treated for a brittle-bone disorder. I met her new solicitor recently who told me she was in good form. I hope to receive a birthday card from her this week.

Rose West is being treated, not surprisingly, as a suicide risk and is widely reported as being very depressed. Her solicitor, however, insists that she is not depressed at all and hopes to move shortly to a normal wing.

The coming week I shall be making five speeches to mark my ninetieth birthday . . . There is an obvious danger of my turning these occasions into a series of ego trips. I am determined, however, to put some kind of message across. The best opportunity will occur at the press launch [of the paperback, Avowed Intent, a volume of Longford’s autobiography]. I have not had such an opportunity for years and I am not likely to have one again. Curiously enough the Rose West drama has given me an unrivalled opportunity to assert my ideal of ‘hating the sin and loving the sinner’, which has previously been lacking outside the House of Lords. For whatever reason Rose West does not seem to arouse the intense hatred which the tabloid press has taught the public to feel for Myra.’

17 December 1995
‘Another hectic week. One major television appearance, four radio programmes and a speech on penal matters in the House of Lords. One radio interviewer introduced me thus: ‘My next guest is Lord Longford, to talk about Myra Hindley, pornography and Rose West.’

I have not yet found anybody on these programmes to say to my face that Myra ought to stay in prison. I was accused by one friend afterwards of being arrogant and dismissing so-called public opinion. Maybe so. But when you have known somebody for twenty-seven years it is difficult to be patient with a ‘man in the street’ who only knows what the tabloid press tells him about.

Once again I am profoundly conscious of the gap between informed opinion and uninformed public emotions. I keep coming back to the taxi driver who told me that he felt cheated out of revenge when he heard that Fred West had committed suicide. But he knew that it was wrong to feel that way. I have to accept the fact that feelings similar to those of the taxi driver will always be widely held by the so-called general public.

Those who deal with prisoners at first-hand, the Prison Service and the Probation Service, for example, cannot fail to recognise them as fellow human beings. But to the so-called general public they will always be an alien and even menacing force. It is the business of those who care for humanity and justice to make far more effort than they have made previously to guide the public in the direction of the enlightened taxi driver. It is easy for someone like myself to say we must hate the sin and love the sinner, but it is hard enough to achieve that balance after a lifetime’s experience, still more after a moment’s reflection.’