Friday, September 30, 2011

Violent, absurd and mad

Lady Mary Coke, a friend of the politician and historian, Horace Walpole, died two centuries ago today. She seems to have been a society woman of some character, but little achievement. She is remembered today partly because of her (rather dull) diary, and partly because of her stormy friendship with Walpole, who called her violent and mad.

Mary was born in 1727, the fifth and youngest daughter of John Campbell, Duke of Argyll, and his second wife, Jane who was a maid of honour to Queen Anne and Caroline. She married Edward, Viscount Coke, in 1747. However, the marriage was strained from the start, and before long was the matter of court proceedings. She moved to live with her mother at Sudbrook, Surrey; but, in any case, her husband died shortly after, when she was only 26.

With a legacy from her father, Lady Mary was able to play a full, if increasingly odd, part in society, travelling frequently in Europe. In the early 1770s, she became involved with the court of Empress Maria Theresa in Vienna; but, on a third visit, she fell out of favour with the Empress, and thereafter felt persecuted by her. Lady Mary had a long friendship with Horace Walpole, who dedicated The Castle of Otranto to her; but he called her ‘violent, absurd and mad’ (according to Ponsonby - see below). She died on 30 September 1811. Wikipedia has further biographical information.

Much of what we know of Lady Mary today comes from her voluminous diary, largely written in the form of letters to her sister Lady Strafford. This was first published privately (only 100 copies were printed) between 1889 and 1896 in four volumes by David Douglas in Edinburgh. These were reprinted in 1970 by Kingsmead Bookshops (see Amazon).

Arthur Ponsonby, the author of English Diaries (available at Internet Archive), says the journal is often silly and very dull. Jill Rubenstein, author of Lady Mary’s biography in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (login needed), says: ‘The journal ranges from banal descriptions of card games and weather to perceptive social observation and expressions of sincere affection, often closely and unselfconsciously juxtaposed. The personality which emerges from the whole combines elements of the mundane and the preposterous with the deeply sympathetic.’

The only extracts of Lady Mary’s diary that I can find online are thanks to Yale University Library (and concern Horace Walpole).

7 September 1767
‘Mr Walpole called on me at five o’clock in very low spirits; he had received an account of his brother being dangerously ill, and Mr Conway had wrote him word of the dreadful accident the poor Duke of Grafton had had, of one of the horses of his chaise, as he was driving, treading upon a man, of which hurt he was since dead. He left me at six o’clock to go to some engagement.’

29 July 1770
‘We had two beaux besides Mr Walpole at Strawberry Hill, Lord Bristol and Mr Hervey. Lady Greenwich and Lady Sackville came from Sudbrook, Lady Jane Scott from town, and Lady Browne from Twickenham. ’Twas a terrible hot day. We had a great dinner very ill-dressed, yet Mr Walpole had sent for a cook on purpose, who certainly knew but little of his trade: he himself is, as you know, always agreeable and always makes his house so to his company. All went well till the evening, when Lady Blandford arrived, and very soon after the servants told Mr Walpole the Princess Amelia was coming: this put all in confusion. Lady Blandford desired to be shut up, but none of the company agreeing to be shut up with her, she was obliged to remain in the Gallery. I went down to meet the Princess: Lady Powis and Lady Harriot Varnon were with her. H.R.H. went over all the house: the Gallery last, as she did not care to disturb the company, and therefore did not stop to look at any of the pictures, desiring they would set down and not mind her. Those she passed by she spoke to, which were Lady Charlotte Edwine, Lady Greenwich, and Lord Bristol, but unluckily, not seeing Lady Jane Scott, she was not taken notice of, which displeased her very much, and though the Princess sent a message to her by me when she went away, all did not do: she would be offended. Lady Blandford was out of humour at being deprived of Mr Walpole’s company, so the party did not end so well as it promised. Things being in this situation Lady Greenwich called for her chaise, and as I was to lie at Sudbrook I followed her example.’

20 December 1768
‘The new opera, I am told, is extremely disliked. Mr Walpole says he will go to it no more. He made the Princess Amelia a present of his snuff-box with the picture of Harry the Fourth of France, who she was expressing her admiration of. As he had wore it in his pocket for above a year, I don’t think it was proper, at least I should have thrown out the snuff; however, it was very politely received and accepted.’

6 January 1769
‘Before he [Mr Walpole] came in, the Princess showed me the lines he had sent her engraved in the lid of the box; to which she had ordered to be added, that it was given her by the Honourable Horatio Walpole, son of that great Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, Earl of Orford. Nothing, I think, could be more polite to Mr Walpole, and he seemed to be of that opinion when she showed it him, only saying that he was quite ashamed of her goodness.’

25 April 1769
‘Mr Walpole called at my house, and approves of all I have done since he was here. He has given me a design for some frames to be placed over the doors in my book-room, and repeated to me the epilogue he made for Mrs Clive which she spoke last night on quitting the stage. ‘Tis like everything he has ever wrote, extremely pretty. Nobody has his genius. He gave me a play [The Mysterious Mother] of his own writing. I once heard him repeat some scenes that I thought very fine.’

27 April 1769
‘Lady Spencer has lost her little child. Mr Walpole laughed at me for saying I was concerned.’

14 May 1769
‘I must not forget to mention that on Saturday evening Mr Walpole, who was one of the party, was both uncivil and ill-natured to me, and with no other provocation than saying what almost every other person agrees in that the French Ambassadress was very illbred. Mr Conway with his usual goodness took my part very warmly and seemed hurt at what Mr Walpole had said. As it was with an ill-natured intention, I own it surprised me, and I’m afraid I shall not soon forget it.’

10 January 1784
‘Sir Edward Walpole is dying; he has been declining some months but is now past all hopes of recovery. Mr Walpole will lose a place which Sir Edward held for him and though he has another which is very considerable, ’tis unpleasant to lose anything that one has had for any time. I called on him this morning but he could not see me.’

30 January 1785
‘I passed an hour with Mr Walpole this evening and was surprised to find him so much recovered though still weak; he told me he had a bad fall the day before by imprudently rising from his chair without his stick and hurt himself so much that he imagined it would bring the gout again but contrary to his expectations he had slept the whole night and was quite well in the morning.’

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The most beautiful poem

‘The most beautiful poem there is, is life - life which discerns its own story in the making, in which inspiration and self-consciousness go together and help each other . . .’ This is the French moral philosopher Henri-Frédéric Amiel, born 190 years ago today, writing in his diary on his 31st birthday. Today, he is largely remembered thanks to this diary, which, in a way, he turned into a beautiful poem of his life.

Descended from a Huguenot family that had been driven to Switzerland, Amiel was born on 27 September 1821 in Geneva, but lost his parents at an early age. He travelled widely, and studied German philosophy in Berlin. In 1849, he was appointed professor of aesthetics at the academy of Geneva, and five years later became professor of moral philosophy. There are very few other biographical details about Amiel readily available on the internet in English, though Jean-Marc Cottier runs an informative website in French about the man.

Amiel is remembered today largely because of his diary first published in Geneva as Fragments d’un journal intime in 1882, and translated by Mrs Humphrey Ward into English as Amiel’s Journal: The Journal Intimé of Henri-Frédéric Amiel in 1884 (freely available at Internet Archive). The diary has been reprinted many times in English (currently lots of versions - see Amazon) and has been translated into many other languages.

According to Ward’s original introduction to the first English edition, Amiel’s literary heirs inherited thousands of sheets of his diary, covering a period of more than thirty years. She says Amiel recorded his various occupations, the incidents of each day, his psychological observations, and the impressions produced on him by books. But his journal was, ‘above all, the confidant of his most private and intimate thoughts; a means whereby the thinker became conscious of his own inner life; a safe shelter wherein his questionings of fate and the future, the voice of grief, of self-examination and confession, the soul’s cry for inward peace, might make themselves freely heard.’

Here are several extracts - on religion, nature, motherhood and self-analysis - which give a sense of Amiel’s daily cogitations.

27 September 1852
‘To-day I complete my thirty-first year. . .

The most beautiful poem there is, is life - life which discerns its own story in the making, in which inspiration and self-consciousness go together and help each other, life which knows itself to be the world in little, a repetition in miniature of the divine universal poem. Yes, be man; that is to say, be nature, be spirit, be the image of God, be what is greatest, most beautiful, most lofty in all the spheres of being, be infinite will and idea, a reproduction of the great whole. And be everything while being nothing, effacing thyself, letting God enter into thee as the air enters an empty space, reducing the ego to the mere vessel which contains the divine essence. Be humble, devout, silent, that so thou mayest hear within the depths of thyself the subtle and profound voice; be spiritual and pure, that so thou mayest have communion with the pure spirit. Withdraw thyself often into the sanctuary of thy inmost consciousness; become once more point and atom, that so thou mayest free thyself from space, time, matter, temptation, dispersion, that thou mayest escape thy very organs themselves and thine own life. That is to say, die often, and examine thyself in the presence of this death, as a preparation for the last death. He who can without shuddering confront blindness, deafness, paralysis, disease, betrayal, poverty; he who can without terror appear before the sovereign justice, he alone can call himself prepared for partial or total death. How far am I from anything of the sort, how far is my heart from any such stoicism! But at least we can try to detach ourselves from all that can be taken away from us, to accept everything as a loan and a gift, and to cling only to the imperishable - this at any rate we can attempt. To believe in a good and fatherly God, who educates us, who tempers the wind to the shorn lamb, who punishes only when he must, and takes away only with regret; this thought, or rather this conviction, gives courage and security. Oh, what need we have of love, of tenderness, of affection, of kindness, and how vulnerable we are, we the sons of God, we, immortal and sovereign beings! Strong as the universe or feeble as the worm, according as we represent God or only ourselves, as we lean upon infinite being, or as we stand alone.

The point of view of religion, of a religion at once active and moral, spiritual and profound, alone gives to life all the dignity and all the energy of which it is capable. Religion makes invulnerable and invincible. Earth can only be conquered in the name of heaven. All good things are given over and above to him who desires but righteousness. To be disinterested is to be strong, and the world is at the feet of him whom it cannot tempt. Why? Because spirit is lord of matter, and the world belongs to God. “Be of good cheer,” saith a heavenly voice, “I have overcome the world.”

Lord, lend thy strength to those who are weak in the flesh, but willing in the spirit!’

31 October 1852
‘Walked for half an hour in the garden. A fine rain was falling, and the landscape was that of autumn. The sky was hung with various shades of gray, and mists hovered about the distant mountains, a melancholy nature. The leaves were falling on all sides like the last illusions of youth under the tears of irremediable grief. A brood of chattering birds were chasing each other through the shubberies. and playing games among the branches, like a knot of hiding schoolboys. The ground strewn with leaves, brown, yellow, and reddish; the trees half-stripped, some more, some less, and decked in ragged splendors of dark-red, scarlet, and yellow; the reddening shrubs and plantations; a few flowers still lingering behind, roses, nasturtiums, dahlias, shedding their petals round them; the bare fields, the thinned hedges; and the fir, the only green thing left, vigorous and stoical, like eternal youth braving decay; all these innumerable and marvelous symbols which forms colors, plants, and living beings, the earth and the sky, yield at all times to the eye which has learned to look for them, charmed and enthralled me. I wielded a poetic wand, and had but to touch a phenomenon to make it render up to me its moral significance. Every landscape is, as it were, a state of the soul, and whoever penetrates into both is astonished to find how much likeness there is in each detail. True poetry is truer than science, because it is synthetic, and seizes at once what the combination of all the sciences is able at most to attain as a final result. The soul of nature is divined by the poet; the man of science, only serves to accumulate materials for its demonstration.’

6 January 1853
‘Self-government with tenderness - here you have the condition of all authority over children. The child must discover in us no passion, no weakness of which he can make use; he must feel himself powerless to deceive or to trouble us; then he will recognize in us his natural superiors, and he will attach a special value to our kindness, because he will respect it. The child who can rouse in us anger, or impatience, or excitement, feels himself stronger than we, and a child only respects strength. The mother should consider herself as her child’s sun, a changeless and ever radiant world, whither the small restless creature, quick at tears and laughter, light, fickle, passionate, full of storms, may come for fresh stores of light, warmth, and electricity, of calm and of courage. The mother represents goodness, providence, law; that is to say, the divinity, under that form of it which is accessible to childhood. If she is herself passionate, she will inculcate on her child a capricious and despotic God, or even several discordant gods. The religion of a child depends on what its mother and its father are, and not on what they say. The inner and unconscious ideal which guides their life is precisely what touches the child; their words, their remonstrances, their punishments, their bursts of feeling even, are for him merely thunder and comedy; what they worship, this it is which his instinqt divines and reflects.

The child sees what we are, behind what we wish to be. Hence his reputation as a physiognomist. He extends his power as far as he can with each of us; he is the most subtle of diplomatists. Unconsciously he passes under the influence of each person about him, and reflects it while transforming it after his own nature. He is a magnifying mirror. This is why the first principle of education is: train yourself; and the first rule to follow if you wish to possess yourself of a child’s will is: master your own.’

28 April 1871
‘For a psychologist it is extremely interesting to be readily and directly conscious of the complications of one’s own organism and the play of its several parts. It seems to me that the sutures of my being are becoming just loose enough to allow me at once a clear perception of myself as a whole and a distinct sense of my own brittleness. A feeling like this makes personal existence a perpetual astonishment and curiosity. Instead of only seeing the world which surrounds me, I analyze myself. Instead of being single, all of apiece, I become legion, multitude, a whirlwind - a very cosmos. Instead of living on the surface, I take possession of my inmost self , I apprehend myself, if not in my cells and atoms, at least so far as my groups of organs, almost my tissues, are concerned. In other words, the central monad isolates itself from all the subordinate monads, that it may consider them, and finds its harmony again in itself.

Health is the perfect balance between our organism, with all its component parts, and the outer world; it serves us especially for acquiring a knowledge of that world. Organic disturbance obliges us to set up a fresh and more spiritual equilibrium, to withdraw within the soul. Thereupon our bodily constitution itself becomes the object of thought. It is no longer we, although it may belong to us; it is nothing more than the vessel in which we make the passage of life, a vessel of which we study the weak points and the structure without identifying it with our own individuality.

Where is the ultimate residence of the self? In thought, or rather in consciousness. But below consciousness there is its germ, the punctum saliens of spontaneity; for consciousness is not primitive, it becomes. The question is, can the thinking monad return into its envelope, that is to say, into pure spontaneity, or even into the dark abyss of virtuality? I hope not. The kingdom passes; the king remains; or rather is it the royalty alone which subsists - that is to say, the idea - the personality begin in its turn merely the passing vesture of the permanent idea? Is Leibnitz or Hegel right? Is the individual immortal under the form of the spiritual body? Is he eternal under the form of the individual idea? Who saw most clearly, St Paul or Plato? The theory of Leibnitz attracts me most because it opens to us an infinite of duration, of multitude, and evolution. For a monad, which is the virtual universe, a whole infinite of time is not too much to develop the infinite within it. Only one must admit exterior actions and influences which affect the evolution of the monad. Its independence must be a mobile and increasing quantity between zero and the infinite, without ever reaching either completeness or nullity, for the monad can be neither absolutely passive nor entirely free.’

Monday, September 26, 2011

Diary briefs

Lady Soames diary-based memoir - The Churchill Centre, Random House

French murder probe in doubt over suspect’s diaries -

Charlton Heston: The Ben-Hur Diaries - Home Media Magazine

Diaries reveal 20-year-old nanny’s love for boy of 14 - Mail Online

Diary clue in case of missing Jacque Waller - Southeast Missourian

Friday, September 16, 2011

Kaempfer’s Japan

Today marks 360 years since the birth of the German doctor and naturalist, Engelbert Kaempfer. His fame rests on two books, both largely about Japan, where he stayed for two years during a period when the country was very much closed to foreigners. The British Library holds some of Kaempfer’s diaries, and one of his published books - History of Japan - contains several narratives for journeys which Kaempfer must have based on his diaries.

Kaempfer was born on 16 September 1651 at Lemgo, Germany, a small town in Westphalia, belonging to the Count of Lippe. His father was vicar of the Nicolai Cathedral at Lemgo. After studying medicine and natural sciences, he received his PhD in Poland, then travelled from there to Prussia, and to Sweden. In 1683, he became secretary to the Royal Swedish Ambassador Extraordinary on a special mission to Persia, where he stayed until 1685. He then spent three further years alone in the country, before sailing to Batavia (Jakarta, Indonesia).

In 1690 Kaempfer joined the Dutch East India Company as a physician, and he then journeyed to Japan, where the company had a trading post on the island of Deshima, near Nagasaki in southwest Japan. This was unique at the time, since the country was all but closed to foreigners (and had been for nearly a century) with only the Dutch allowed limited access: confined to the island, they were granted just one trading mission a year to Edo (present day Tokyo). Despite the restrictions, Kaempfer stayed for two years, learning much about Japan and the Japanese from a young man appointed as his assistant.

Kaempfer returned to Amsterdam in October 1693, and soon after was awarded a medical degree at the University of Leiden. Back in Lemgo, Count de Lippe appointed him his personal physician. In 1700, Kaempfer married and he had three children, all of whom died in their infancy. Kaempfer himself died in 1716. Further biographical information can be found at Wikipedia, the Soy Info Center, Fathom, a Columbia University learning resource, and Encyclopædia Iranica.

Kaempfer is largely remembered today for two books he authored: Amoenitatum Exoticarum (Exotic Novelties) published in 1712, with descriptions of flora such as the soy bean, camelia and Ginkgo; and History of Japan, which was first published in an English translation (from the original manuscripts) in 1727. The latter work (which can be downloaded from Internet Archive) also contains biographical information about Kaempfer, and narrative accounts of his travels. The British Library acquired many of Kaempfer’s papers - including diaries - as part of the bequest of Sir Hans Sloane, a founder of the British Museum, who had purchased Kaempfer’s literary estate from his nephew in the 1720s.

As far as I know the diaries have not been published, but the travel narratives in History of Japan must have been based originally on diary material. David van Ooijen, a lute player, has some information about Klaempfer, another lute player, on his website, including a few diary-based extracts. These come from a new (1999) translation of History of Japan by Beatrice M Bodart-Bailey called Kaempfer’s Japan: Tokugawa Culture Observed.

‘An incredible number of people daily use the highways of Japan’s provinces, indeed, at certain times of the year they are as crowded as the streets of a populous European city. I have personally witnessed this on the Tōkaidō, described earlier, apparently the most important of the seven highways, having travelled this road four times. The reason for these crowds is partly the large population of the various provinces and partly that the Japanese travel more than other people. Here I will introduce the most memorable groups of travellers one meets daily on these roads.’

‘When on pilgrimage to Ise - which takes place throughout the year but especially in spring - people have to use a stretch of this great road, regardless of what province they come. So it is crowded with such travellers during the said seasons as people of both sexes, old and young, rich and poor, embark on this meritorious journey and act of devotion, attempting to the best of their ability to make their way on foot. […] There are also a number of slippery customers who pretend that they are on this pilgrimage, and as long as they are doing well spend most of the year on the road begging.’

‘Here and there one finds so-called junrei, that is, those who visit the thirty-three most important Kannon temples throughout the country. They drift around in twos or threes and at each house sing a pitiful Kannon tine; occasionally they also play a fiddle or zither not unlike the vagrants in Germany, but they do not approach travellers for alms.’

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Henry Melchior Muhlenberg

Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, the patriarch of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, was born in Germany three centuries ago today. A fervently religious man, he kept meticulous diaries - documenting his pastoral acts, social interactions, and administrative duties - which are considered a ‘treasure trove for the genealogists’.

Muhlenberg was born on 6 September 1711 in Einbeck, Lower Saxony, Germany, and studied theology in Göttingen and Halle. He worked at various times with charity schools and orphanages. In 1739, he was ordained at Leipzig. In 1741, an application from congregations in Pennsylvania reached Halle requesting a pastor to take charge, and Hermann Francke, a Lutheran leader, chose Muhlenberg to go.

After a sojourn in London, Muhlenberg arrived in America in 1742, reaching Charleston on 23 September. In 1745 he married Anna Maria Weiser, the daughter of a colonial leader, Conrad Weiser, and the couple had eleven children, seven of whom reached adulthood.

Muhlenberg took charge of the congregation at Providence, in what is now Trappe, Pennsylvania, but also served congregations from Maryland to New York, working to manage less qualified pastors and launching new congregations among the settlers of the region. In 1748, he called together the first permanent Lutheran synod in America, and helped prepare a uniform liturgy. He was also instrumental in writing an ecclesiastical constitution, which most of the churches adopted in 1761.

Poor health forced him into limited activity and retirement, and he died at his home in Trappe, in 1787. More biographical information is available at Holy Trinity (New Rochelle),, Evangelical Lutheran Conference and Ministerium, and the American Philosophical Society.

An English version of Muhlenberg’s journals, translated by T G Tappert and J W Doberstein, was first published in three volumes by the Evangelical Lutheran Ministerium in the 1940s. However, more recently, in 1993, they were reprinted by Picton Press (and cost over $200). Picton says: ‘[The] journals are an incredible treasure trove for the genealogist, as [Muhlenberg] carefully recorded his pastoral acts, financial transactions, correspondence, etc, for his personal record (thus he includes subjective opinions, not recorded elsewhere, on people). Marriages, baptisms, funerals, and interactions with neighbors, friends and foes, Lutherans and non-Lutherans alike, are all described in great detail. There is a tremendous amount of data here. The diary is so fascinating you may find yourself reading it cover-to-cover before beginning your serious research!’

There has also been a one-volume version - The Notebook of a Colonial Clergyman: Condensed From the Journals of Henry Melchoir Muhlenberg - published initially by The Muhlenberg Press in 1959, and reprinted as recently as 2009.

There appear to be no substantial extracts of Muhlenberg’s journals freely available online, but a few quotes can be found in different books. Diary extracts are quoted, for example, in The Pennsylvania Weather Book, which can be read at Googlebooks. Slightly more interesting extracts can be found in Memoir of The Life and Times of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg Patriarch of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, written by M L Stoever and published in 1856 by Lindsay & Blakiston, Philadelphia, which is available at Internet Archive.

According to Stoever: ‘[Muhlenberg] commenced his journey in the spring of 1742, passing through Holland on his way to England. In London, he met with a cordial reception from Rev. Dr Ziegenhagen, Chaplain to King George II, who greatly encouraged him to his mission and materially aided him in his object. With this excellent and faithful man he remained nine weeks, diligently improving his time in seeking additional instruction and counsel with regard to his future duties. How much he enjoyed the season may be inferred from the following memorandum in his journal: ‘The time was entirely too short for me, and the questions too numerous, upon which I would gladly have conversed with him; so numerous were they indeed, that I was often in doubt which should be taken first. The consideration of these subjects caused me greater joy, and was far more pleasing to me than the possession of jewels or many pieces of gold.’ ’

On the ship from England to Georgia, Muhlenberg tried to convert his fellow passengers, and ‘the humblest of the sea-men he did not neglect’. The memoir says: ‘he labored to reclaim all, to instruct them in the plan of salvation, and to bring them to a saving acquaintance with Him who is ‘the way and the truth and the life.’ In one place in his journal, he remarks: ‘I conversed to-day with some of the crew, and tried to explain to them how sad their condition was, so long as they were estranged from God by wicked works;’ and in another place he says: ‘I urged upon the English passengers the necessity of a radical change in their life by the exercise of faith in the crucified Redeemer. They all listened,’ he tells us, ‘with attention, admitted the truth of my statements, and thanked me for my instructions. But how difficult it is to produce upon the minds of men a permanent impression of the doctrine of regeneration. The many prejudices which darken the understanding - the strong influence of sinful habits, together with riches, worldly prospects, and the cares of life, are powerful hinderances in the way.’ ’

During the American War of Independence, Muhlenberg’s home in Trappe was full of fugitives; he wrote in his journal: ‘The name of Muhlenberg is greatly disliked and abused by the British and Hessian officers in Philadelphia, and they threaten prison, tortures, and death, so soon as they can lay hands upon me.’

In 1989, the Historical Society of Trappe purchased the Henry Muhlenberg House, and restored it to the period of 1776 - using detail from the journals.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Diary briefs

Diaries of couple held hostage by Somali pirates - Mail Online

Diaries of Winston Churchill’s daughter - Mail Online, Transworld

Family seeks to bar missing woman’s diaries from internet - Utah News,

1860s diary of magistrate from Windsor, Ontario - The Windsor Star

South Korean burglar’s diary evidence - The Straits Times

Defrocked priest in Australia sues over stolen diaries - Newcastle Herald