Monday, November 26, 2012

The crimes of war

‘I want to write a poem about the crimes of war, the crimes that have strangled to death millions of pure and bright loves, strangled to death the happiness of millions of people, but I cannot write it.’ This is one of many heartfelt entries in the diary of Dr Dang Thuy Tram, a Vietnamese doctor, who might have turned 70 today had she not been killed by US forces. More or less forgotten, Dr Tram only came to national prominence with the publication of her diaries in 2005 which turned her into a national hero - a Vietnamese Anne Frank.

Tram was born on 26 November 1942 into a prosperous family of doctors, and trained as a doctor herself. She volunteered for duty in a military hospital in Quang Ngai province during the Vietnam War, and died in 1970, shot by US troops. For the last two years of her life, she kept a diary, and it is the story of this diary that takes up most of Tram’s Wikipedia entry, indeed there is far more information about the diary available across the internet than about Tram herself (except in the published diary’s introduction available to read at Amazon - see below).

One of Tram’s diary books was captured by US forces in 1969, and another was found by an American lawyer. Fred Whitehurst, serving with the military intelligence unit, after her death. Whitehurst defied an order to burn the diary - the story goes that an interpreter alerted him by saying, ‘Don’t burn this one, Fred. It has fire in it already.’ Later, Whitehurst, recovered the other diary also, and hoped to return them to Tram’s family. Not until 2005, was a family member traced, and the diaries were published soon after - in July that year - becoming a Vietnamese bestseller. Tram was subsequently dubbed Vietnam’s answer to Anne Frank. The diaries were then translated by Andrew Pham and published in English by Random House - Last Night I Dreamed of Peace, the Diary of Dang Thuy Tram - and since then in many other languages too.

The introduction to Last Night I Dreamed of Peace and several pages of extracts can be read online at Amazon, and further extracts can be read at the California Literary Review.

31 May 1968
‘Today we had a major base evacuation to evade the enemy’s mopping-up operation. The whole clinic was moved, an infinitely exhausting undertaking. It’s heart-wrenching to see the wounded patients with beads of sweat running on their pale faces, struggling to walk step by step across narrow passes and up steep slopes. If someday we find ourselves living in the fragrant flowers of socialism, we should remember this scene forever, remember the sacrifice of the people who shed blood for the common cause. Who has brought this suffering upon us, comrades? They are the devils [US military] robbing our country.’

4 June 1968
‘Rain falls without respite. Rain deepens my sadness, its chill making me yearn for the warmth of a family reunion. If only I had wings to fly back to our beautiful house on Lo Duc Street, to eat with Dad, Mom, and my siblings, one simple meal with watercress and one night’s sleep under the old cotton blanket. Last night I dreamed that Peace was established, I came back and saw everybody. Oh, the dream of Peace and Independence has burned in the hearts of thirty million people for so long. For Peace and Independence, we have sacrificed everything. So many people have volunteered to sacrifice their whole lives for two words: Independence and Liberty. I, too, have sacrificed my life for that grandiose fulfillment.’

20 July 1968
‘The days are hectic with so much work piling up, critical injuries, lack of staff personnel; everybody in the clinic works very hard. My responsibilities are heavier than ever; each day I work from dawn till late at night. The volume of work is huge, but there are not enough people. I alone am responsible for managing the clinic, treating the injured, teaching the class. More than ever, I feel I am giving all my strength and skills to the revolution. The wounded soldier whose eyes I thought could not be saved is now recovering. The soldier whose arm was severely inflamed has healed. Many broken arms have also healed. . . All these successes are due mainly to the nurses and me working day and night at the patient’s bedside.’

25 July 1968
‘I came to sit by Lam’s bedside today. A mortar had severed the nerves in his spine, the shrapnel killing half of his body. Lam was totally paralyzed. His body was ulcerated from the chest down. He was in excruciating pain. Lam is twenty-four this year, an excellent nurse from Pho Van. Less than a month ago, he was assigned as supplement to the District Civil Medical Department. The enemy came upon Lam while he was on the road during his recent assignment; Lam tried to get into a secret shelter, but the Americans were already upon him when he opened the cover; the small shrapnel painfully destroyed his life. Lam lay there waiting for death. In the North, a severed spinal cord is already a hopeless case, let alone here. Lam knows the severity of his injury and is deep in misery and depression.

This afternoon as I was sitting next to him, Lam handed me a letter from Hanh (Lam’s young wife), then said in a low voice, “Big Sister, you and the other sisters here - you are my family - you have dedicated yourselves to nurturing me. What for? I will die sooner or later; if I live, I will only bring more hardships for you and the family.” A single tear rolled down Lam’s gaunt cheek.

My heart was breaking for him, but I didn’t know what to say. If I were Lam, I certainly would have said the same. But I couldn’t stop encouraging him. . . Oh! War! How I hate it, and I hate the belligerent American devils. Why do they enjoy massacring kind, simple folks like us? Why do they heartlessly kill life-loving young men like Lam, like Ly, like Hung and the thousand others, who are only defending their motherland with so many dreams?’

29 July 1969
‘The war is extremely cruel. This morning, they bring me a wounded soldier. A phosphorus bomb has burned his entire body. An hour after being hit, he is still burning, smoke rising from his body. This is Khanh, a twenty-year-old man, the son of a sister cadre in the hamlet where I’m staying. An unfortunate accident caused the bomb to explode and severely burned the man. Nobody recognizes him as the cheerful, handsome man he once was. Today his smiling, joyful black eyes have been reduced to two little holes - the yellowish eyelids are cooked. The reeking burn of phosphorus smoke still rises from his body. He looks as if he has been roasted in an oven.’

I stand frozen before this heartbreaking tableau.

His mother weeps. Her trembling hands touch her son’s body; pieces of his skin fall off, curled up like crumbling sheets of rice cracker. His younger and older sisters are attending him, their eyes full of tears.

A girl sits by his side, her gentle eyes glassy with worry. Clumps of hair wet with sweat cling to her cheeks, reddened by exhaustion and sorrow. Tu (that’s her name) is Khanh’s lover. She carried Khanh here. Hearing that he needed serum for a transfusion, Tu crossed the river to buy it. The river was rising, and Tu didn’t know how to swim, but she braved the crossing. Love gave her strength.

The pain is imprinted on the innocent forehead of that beautiful girl. Looking at her, I want to write a poem about the crimes of war, the crimes that have strangled to death millions of pure and bright loves, strangled to death the happiness of millions of people, but I cannot write it. My pen cannot describe it all, even though this is one case I feel with all my senses and emotions.’

5 August 1969
‘I’m on a night emergency-aid mission, going through many dangerous parts of the national highway on which enemy vehicles frequently commute, and passing through the hills filled with American posts. Lights from the bases shine brightly; I go through the middle of the fields of Pho Thuan. Bright lights shine from three directions around me: Chop Mountain, Cactus Mountain, and the flares hanging in midair in front of me. The light sources cast my shadows in different directions, and I feel like an actor on stage, as in the days when I was still a medical student performing in a choir. Now I am also an actor on the stage of life; I am taking the role of a girl in the liberated area, wearing black pajamas, who night after night, follows the guerrillas to work between our areas and those of the enemy.

Perhaps I will meet the enemy, and perhaps I will fall, but I hold my medical bag firmly regardless, and people will feel sorry for this girl who was sacrificed for the revolution when she was still young and full of verdant dreams.’

20 June 1970 [the final entry published in Last Night I Dreamed of Peace - two days later she was shot.]
‘Still no one comes. It has been almost ten days since the second bombardment. People left with a promise to come back quickly and get us out of this dangerous area. We suspect that spies pointed out our location. [ . . .]

No I am no longer a child. I have grown up. I have passed trials of peril, but, somehow, at this moment, I yearn deeply for Mom’s caring hand. Even the hand of a dear one or that of an acquaintance would be enough. Come to me, squeeze my hand, know my loneliness, and give me the love, the strength to prevail on the perilous road before me.’

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Schindler of China

‘I saw a Japanese soldier lying completely naked on a young girl, who was crying hysterically. I yelled at this swine, in any language it would be understood, ‘Happy New Year! and he fled from there, naked and with his pants in his hand.’ This is John Rabe - who was born 130 years ago today - writing in his diary on 1 January 1938, during the weeks of the Rape of Nanking. The diary was only discovered some 60 years later, and inspired an American historian to dub Rabe the Oskar Schindler of China for his heroic efforts to protect Nanking’s residents from Japanese atrocities.

Rabe was born in Hamburg, Germany, on 23 November 1882. His father was a sailor. Rabe was apprenticed to a merchant, and in time assigned to a post in Africa. In his mid-20s, he went to China and then, from 1910, was employed by Siemens in its Beijing office. When the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1937, the foreign community and much of the Chinese population, including the government, were evacuated from Nanking, where Rabe was living. Although Siemens ordered him to leave too, he declined (although his family did leave).

With other foreign nationals, Rabe established a temporary safety zone for Chinese refugees. Subsequently, he was made head of an international committee to administer the zone. During what became known as the Rape of Nanking, the efforts of this committee managed to save many lives, possibly hundreds of thousands. In 1938, Rabe travelled to Germany, where he undertook a series of lectures, using photos and an amateur film, to publicise the extent of Japanese violence in China. At one point he was arrested by the Gestapo, and only released (under censorship) after an intervention by Siemens. He was posted to Afghanistan briefly.

After the Second World War, Rabe, a member of the Nazi party, was obliged to go through denazification procedures. He appears to have left Siemens employ in 1945, and, thereafter, lived in poverty until his death in 1950. There is plenty of biographical information about Rabe online, thanks to, among others, Wikipedia, a New York Times article and Emily Paras’s Can a Nazi be a Hero?. There are also many websites with details about the Rape of Nanking, such as The Pacific War Historical Society website.

It was Iris Chang, an American historian researching the Nanking events, who discovered John Rabe’s diaries. In her famous book The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust Of World War II published in 1998, she wrote: ‘In 1996 I began an investigation into the life of John Rabe and eventually unearthed thousands of pages of diaries that he and other Nazis kept during the Rape. These diaries led me to conclude that John Rabe was “the Oskar Schindler of China”. The diaries were translated by John E. Woods, edited by Erwin Wickert and published in the late 1990s as The Good German of Nanking: The Diaries of John Rabe by Little Brown in London (and The Good Man of Nanking by A. A. Knopf in New York).

Chang also discovered diaries written by Minnie Vautrin, an American missionary who was in Nanking at the time - see more on her diaries in the 2010 Diary Review article - In darkness and fear.

A few extracts from Rabe’s diaries can be found online at Wikipedia, and in Chang’s book (at Googlebooks).

13 December 1937
‘It is not until we tour the city that we learn the extent of destruction. We come across corpses every 100 to 200 yards. The bodies of civilians that I examined had bullet holes in their backs. These people had been presumably fleeing and were shot from behind. The Japanese march through the city in groups of ten to twenty soldiers and loot the shops [. . .] I watched with my own eyes as they looted the café of our German baker Herr Kiessling. Hempel’s hotel was broken into as well, as almost every shop on Chung Shang and Taiping Road.’

15 December 1937
‘No sooner am I back in my office at Committee Headquarters, than my boy arrives with bad news - the Japanese have returned and now have 1,300 refugees tied up. Along with Smythe and Mills I try to get these people released, but to no avail. They are surrounded by about 100 Japanese soldiers and, still tied up, are led off to be shot. [. . .] It’s hard to see people driven off like animals. But they say that Chinese shot 2,000 Japanese prisoners in Tsinanfu, too. We hear by way of the Japanese Navy that the gunboat U.S.S. Pany, on which the officials of the American embassy had sought safety, has been accidentally bombed and sunk by the Japanese.’

17 December 1937
‘Two Japanese soldiers have climbed over the garden wall and are about to break into our house. When I appear they give the excuse that they saw two Chinese soldiers climb over the wall. When I show them my party badge, they return the same way. In one of the houses in the narrow street behind my garden wall, a woman was raped, and then wounded in the neck with a bayonet. I managed to get an ambulance so we can take her to Kulou Hospital. [. . .] Last night up to 1,000 women and girls are said to have been raped, about 100 girls at Ginling Girls’ College alone. You hear nothing but rape. If husbands or brothers intervene, they’re shot. What you hear and see on all sides is the brutality and bestiality of the Japanese soldiers.’

24 December 1937
‘I have had to look at so many corpses over the last few weeks that I can keep my nerves in check even when viewing these horrible cases. It really doesn’t leave you in a “Christmas” mood; but I wanted to see these atrocities with my own eyes, so that I can speak as an eyewitness later. A man cannot be silent about this kind of cruelty!’

28 December 1937
‘He [Fukui Kiyoshi of the Japanese embassy] also informs me that our Zone has now been surrounded by Japanese guards, who will see to it that no prowling soldiers are allowed into the Zone. I’ve now had a better look at these guards and discovered that they did not stop and interrogate a single Japanese soldier. I even saw soldiers carrying looted items out of the Zone, and with absolutely no questions asked by the guards. What sort of protection is that?’

1 January 1938
‘The mother of a young attractive girl called out to me, and throwing herself on her knees, crying, said I should help her. Upon entering [. . .], I saw a Japanese soldier lying completely naked on a young girl, who was crying hysterically. I yelled at this swine, in any language it would be understood, ‘Happy New Year!’ and he fled from there, naked and with his pants in his hand.’

10 February 1938
‘Fukui, whom I tried to find at the Japanese embassy to no avail all day yesterday, paid a call on me last night. He actually managed to threaten me: “If the newspapers in Shanghai report bad things, you will have the Japanese army against you”, he said. [. . .] In reply to my question as to what I then could say in Shanghai, Fukui said “We leave that to your discretion.” My response: “It looks as if you expect me to say something like this to the reporters: The situation in Nanking is improving everyday. Please don’t print any more atrocities stories about the vile behavior of Japanese soldiers, because then you’ll only be pouring oil on fire of disagreement that already exists between the Japanese and Europeans.” “Yes”, he said simply beaming, “that would be splendid!” ’

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

My only anxiety

Mary Berry, a celebrated literary figure in 19th century London, died 160 years ago today, a few months after the death of Agnes, her sister, lifelong companion and ‘only anxiety’. Mary never married, though she was courted by Horace Walpole, 50 years her senior, and was for a time engaged to a general. Her diaries, published shortly after her death, provide an engaging social record of the times, but also show she led a busy life, and had a lively self-analytical mind.

Mary Berry was born in 1763 at Stanwick, Yorkshire. The birth of her sister and lifelong companion, Agnes, followed a year later. Their mother died in childbirth along with a third daughter in 1767. Thereafter, the two sisters lived with their grandmother, first in Yorkshire then on the Thames riverside in Chiswick. In 1783, Mary and Agnes went with their father on an extended tour of the Continent - the first of many they would take.

In 1788, the family took a house at Twickenham Common and made the acquaintance of Horace Walpole, who - famously - described the daughters as ‘the best informed and the most perfect creatures I ever saw at their age’. He also wrote that they were ‘entirely natural and unaffected, frank, and, being qualified to talk on any subject, nothing is so easy and agreeable as their conversation’. By then, Walpole was in his 70s, and the Berrys were still only in their early 20s, but nevertheless a strong, almost intimate, attachment developed between him and both women.

In 1791, the sisters and their father went to live near Walpole, at his Little Strawberry Hill property. They also had a house in London, in North Audley Street. After a long courtship Mary became engaged to General Charles O’Hara, but the relationship soon broke down. After Walpole’s death, the Berrys inherited Little Strawberry Hill, and Mr Berry was assigned to prepare some of Walpole’s writings for publication. However, it was Mary who edited the five volumes of Walpole’s work published in 1798. Thereafter, her literary reputation grew, and she worked on several more biographical works and social histories. Much of the time, though, she was to be found travelling in Europe.

In 1824 the sisters took up residence in Curzon Street, where they established a salon frequented by many prominent society figures, including William Makepeace Thackeray. Agnes died early in 1852, and Mary on 21 November, just months after having been presented to Queen Victoria. There is more biographical information about Mary Berry at Wikipedia and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (login recquired, free with a UK library card).

Berry’s diary was first edited by Lady Theresa Lewis and published by Longmans & Co in 1865 in three volumes as Extracts from the journals and correspondence of Miss Berry, from the year 1783 to 1852. All three volumes are freely available at Internet Archive. The introduction to the first volume, by Lewis, explains Berry’s prominence in society: ‘Miss Berry has more than ordinary claims to live in the memory of those to whom she was personally known. For an unusually lengthened period of years she formed a centre round which beauty, rank, wealth, power, fashion, learning, and science were gathered; merit and distinction of every degree were blended by her hospitality in social ease and familiar intercourse, encouraged by her kindness, and enlivened by her presence. She was not only the friend of literature and of literary people, but she assiduously cultivated the acquaintance of intellectual excellence in whatever form it might appear, and to the close of her existence she maintained her interest in all the important affairs in life, whether social, literary, or political. Without any remarkable talent for conversation herself, she promoted conversation amongst others, and shed an air of home-like ease over the society which met under her roof, that will long be remembered by those who had the opportunity of witnessing it, and who saw the consequent readiness and frequency with which the guests of her unpremeditated parties availed themselves of her general invitation.’

Volume one is mostly letters, with the journal entries written during her Continental travels - here are the first entries from her first trip overseas.

26 May 1783.
‘Set out from Charles Street at four o’clock; slept at the Blue Posts at Witham.’

27 May 1783
‘Arrived at Harwich at four o’clock; sailed on board the Prince of Wales packet-boat, Capt. Nasson, at eight at night.’

28 May 1783
‘All day at sea with a very brisk gale; monstrously sick; came to an anchor at the mouth of the harbour at Helveot at ten o’clock at night.’

29 May 1783
‘Came on shore to the Golden Lion at Helveot between three and four in the morning; breakfasted at six with some of our fellow-travellers; at eight, went on board a yacht sent by Mr Crauford to convey us to Rotterdam. These yachts are elegantly fitted up with every convenience for eating, drinking, and sleeping, and are often hired by Dutch families for several weeks together on parties of pleasure. The passage from Helveot to Rotterdam is commonly made in four or five hours, but there being little or no wind, and the tide being against us, we were from eight in the morning till nine at night in the yacht, and were at last obliged to get into a little rowing boat, in which we arrived at Mr Crauford’s house at Rotterdam between ten and eleven o’clock, not a little delighted to find ourselves again on terra firma and in company of our friends.’

30 May 1783
‘Spent the day in visiting the principal buildings and streets of Rotterdam, which must strike all strangers with its appearance of great bustle, cheerfulness, and most remarkable cleanliness. The canals are broad with rows of trees on each side, and generally full of vessels of all sizes, which are enabled to come up to the very doors of the merchants’ and traders’ houses. The canals are crossed by drawbridges, of which there are commonly more than one in every street, and which gives them such a look of similarity that it was with difficulty I could distinguish one street from another.’

The second and third volumes are more taken up with journal entries, at home and abroad.

23 November 1807
‘A dismal, rainy, and to me melancholy day, for I was out of humour with myself. A number of little circumstances lately have served to convince me that my manner is often tranchante, my voice often too loud, and my way of meeting opposition unconciliating. All these circumstances are exactly the contrary from what they ought to be, to make me what I wish, and what alone I can be, at my time of life. It is odd that I, who have been always thinking of growing old, and have such clear ideas of what alone can make a woman loved and amiable after her youth is past, what her views and manners should be, and what can ensure her any degree of consideration - it is odd, I say, that I should fall into the very faults I am the most aware of, and put myself into the situation I have always deprecated; but it is not too late, and at least I am not too old to mend.

In Madame Neckar’s ridiculous Remains, published by her husband, are some of the very best rules and advice for the manners and conduct of a woman no longer young in society. I will read them again. They always strike me as most justly conceived.’

26 November 1807
‘Walked about the garden at Little Strawberry Hill. My greenhouse looks well. Read Madame du Deffand’s letters in the evening.’ [Berry edited four volumes of Deffand’s letters to Walpole.]

27 November 1807
‘Spent a part of the morning at Little Strawberry Hill in my greenhouse. Read Madame du Deffand in the evening.’

1 December 1807
‘Left Strawberry Hill, after spending five weeks there very comfortably and quietly. North Audley Street for the first time felt cold after the great logs and extreme warmth of Strawberry.’

15 November 1810
‘Accepted Mr Hope’s proposal of going with him to Brighton.’

17 November 1810
‘Mr Hope came soon after eleven. It was a fine sunny day, well calculated to raise one’s spirits when travelling comfortably in a chaise and four. But I was out of spirits with myself. My companion, always acute and intelligent in a tete-a-tete, was another circumstance in my favour; but all did not do. We arrived at Brighton in the dark and the rain at half-past five.’

20 November 1810
‘We drove to the West Cliff. The extent of Brighton along the cliff to the Crescent, the furthest houses on the East Cliff, cannot be much less than two miles. Went to the play (‘The Rivals,’ and the ‘Agreeable Surprise’), which had been bespoken. The house was more than three parts empty; and the company in the Prince’s box, which is always given to the lady who bespeaks the play, talked so loud by way of being so very genteel, that one could hardly hear the players.’

23 November 1810
‘Walked with Mr Ward; his observations are always acute, often droll. But there is nil grande in that man; and with a keen and too accurate observation of the littlenesses and vanities of others, he is, if I am not much mistaken, overcharged with both himself.’

25 November 1810
‘In the evening had some conversation with Mr Grattan. His manner is singular, with much action, and his pronunciation, without being Irish, so very foreign that nobody at first could possibly take him for a native of these islands; his language is good, however, and his choice of words figurative, and out of the common way; but his manner upon the whole in society is much more odd than pleasant.’

26 November 1810
‘Went with Mrs Hope to the church on the hill above the town. It is crowded with tablets and monuments within, and tombstones without; in short, the town and its inhabitants have fairly outgrown their church, for there is but one here.’

13 December 1811
‘Went with Lady Charlotte to hear the military band in the Prince’s Pavilion. Luckily, we only heard two pieces, for the noise of so many loud instruments in a room (the dining-room) which could hardly hold them, was not a remedy for my headache. After the music, having an order, we saw the apartments of the Pavilion. All is Chinese, quite overloaded with china of all sorts and of all possible forms, many beautiful in themselves, but so overloaded one upon another, that the effect is more like a china shop baroquement arranged, than the abode of a Prince. All is gaudy, without looking gay; and all is crowded with ornaments, without being magnificent. The interior of the stables is imposing, though badly arranged for the comfort of the horses, and will only accommodate sixty beneath this large building. The riding house, which is attached to it, perfectly suits its purpose, and is, I think, likely not to be finished, though it is the only part of the habitation of the Prince which deserves preservation. He ought to have a tennis court of the same size, making a pendant to the riding house.’

31 March 1814
‘Went, in the Duke of Devonshire’s box, to see Kean in ‘Hamlet’. I must confess I am disappointed in his talent. To my mind he is without grace and without elevation of mind, because he never seems to rise with the poet in those sublime passages which abound in ‘Hamlet’, and for what is called recitation of verse he understands nothing.’

20 April 1814
‘I went this evening to see Lady H. Leveson, to arrange our going to her sister’s empty house to see the entry of the King of France [Louis XVIII had taken over as de facto ruler of France on 11 April after Napoleon’s defeat]. The streets and the park were, before twelve o’clock, filled with people and carriages; the latter were not allowed to enter the park. At five o’clock we saw seven carriages of the Prince Regent’s pass, drawn by six horses, in dress livery, preceded by several hundreds of gentlemen on horseback, and accompanied and followed by a detachment of Light Horse and the Blues; but that was all we saw, because from Park Street the distance was too great to see well into the carriages, and, if we could have seen so far, the people on foot, and the crowd on the rails and walls of the park, would have prevented our doing so. The people took off their hats and saluted the carriages as they passed with much goodwill, but without the least enthusiasm.’

21 April 1814
‘Everybody who wished to see the King of France went to Grillon’s, in Albemarle Street, where he lodged. I was not amongst the number, but during all the day one could hardly pass through the streets, there were so many carriages and people on foot. He went to see the Prince, and in the evening there were a great many people at Carlton House. All who were not there went to Lady Jersey’s, where there was a very agreeable, and not too numerous a society.’

23 April 1814
‘The King of France left London at nine o’clock this morning. If about the same interval elapses between the visits of the Kings of France to London, we shall not see another for 500 years.’

12 December 1843
‘I have an internal sentiment that I cannot count on myself for a single day. I am therefore most anxious - indeed it is the only thing about which I am anxious - to have all ready, to give as little trouble and hurry at the last as possible. I am very anxious our intimate friends should support poor Agnes, if I leave her behind me. Jane, I hope, will do much for her. I swore her, before she went to Scotland, if I dropped off during her absence, to come immediately up to Agnes. I knew nobody else that could fill her place on that occasion for dear Agnes.’

27 December 1843
‘I have had a severe fit of illness in the form of influenza. Repose, solitude, and a book are all I can attempt. I still make an effort to gather together some sparks of life for my sister’s sake. My only anxiety! my only one! is thinking what I can do to secure her some comfort of society after I am gone. I think of this without ceasing.’

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Not counting hedge hogs

University of Nebraska Press has just published The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely. The diary is said to provide an ‘unprecedented insight into early nineteenth-century Ojibwe life and Ojibwe-missionary relations’ - the Ojibwe being among the largest groups of native Americans north of Mexico. At £49/$65 the new book is a bit pricey, but some extracts from Ely’s diaries can be read freely online thanks to the Minnesota Historical Society.

Edmund Franklin Ely was born in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, in 1809. As a young divinity student in Albany, he taught music and became the leader of the choir of the Fourth Presbyterian Church to help with his expenses. But, in 1833, he managed to get an appointment with the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions whose missionaries were working with native Americans, as well as overseas.

Ely left New York to travel a 1,000 miles west to Lake Superior, where he would stay, serving with Ojibwe missions in Wisconsin and Minnesota, for the next 16 years. The Ojibwe, or Chippewa, who lived along the northern shore of Lake Huron, and both shores of Lake Superior, spoke a form of Algonquian, and are now considered one of the largest groups of Native Americans-First Nations north of Mexico.

Ely married Catherine Bissell (whose mother was a half-blood Chippewa Indian) in 1835 and they are said to have had 13 children. In 1849 he left the mission field but remained living in the area, in St. Paul, and then Oneota (now part of Duluth), where he served as postmaster for six years, and as a St. Louis County commissioner in 1861 and 1862. In 1873, the family moved to California, and Ely died in 1882, two years after his wife.

Ely left behind diaries covering more than 20 years of his life, the first of which was written in 1933 during his journey west from Albany to the Indian country. Most of the content of these diaries has now been edited by Theresa M. Schenck and published for the first time by University of Nebraska Press as The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 1833-1849.

The publisher’s abstract states: ‘Twenty-four-year-old Edmund F. Ely, a divinity student from Albany, New York, gave up his preparation for the ministry in 1833 to become a missionary and teacher among the Ojibwe of Lake Superior. During the next sixteen years, Ely lived, taught, and preached among the Ojibwe, keeping a journal of his day-to-day experiences as well as recording ethnographic information about the Ojibwe. From recording his frustrations over the Ojibwe’s rejection of Christianity to describing hunting and fishing techniques he learned from his Ojibwe neighbors, Ely’s unique and rich record provides unprecedented insight into early nineteenth-century Ojibwe life and Ojibwe-missionary relations.’

The manuscripts are held by Northeast Minnesota Historical Center at the University of Minnesota, and consist of twenty separate volumes. Further details about the diaries can be found in the new book’s introduction (freely available on the University of Nebraska Press website): ‘A few were written by candlelight during canoe trips, others in the comfort of Ely’s lodge. Some parts are faint and written over in blue. A few pages are so faded that they cannot even be read. For the first four years the journals were kept meticulously; they are thorough accounts of the day-to-day activities of Ely and the people with whom he interacted. Thereafter it seems that he maintained his journals somewhat sporadically or only for specific occasions. They nevertheless present a unique picture of a missionary’s life, his reflections on the state of his soul, and his observations of a people little known at the time.’

A few extracts from Ely’s diaries can be found on the web, in articles made available by the Minnesota Historical Society: Roy Hoover’s To Stand Alone in the Wilderness - Edmund F. Ely Missionary, and Grace Lee Nute’s The Edmund Franklin Ely Papers

Here are a few extracts taken from the above sources.

5 November 1833
‘This evening, the Frenchmen & Indian Girls, have had a dance in Mr Aitken’s Room. Mr Davenport played the Violin for them. Their feet are happily well inured to hardships - or Else, one would suppose, from the Modus operandi, that they would raise some blisters - not to mention the consequences to’ the floor on which they Jump.’

8 January 1834
‘Today Mr A. started off - 2 Horse trains for Fondulac & is to follow in the Morning with a Dog train.’

26 February 1834
‘Was much amused, this evening, in the wigiwam, to hear a Child 3 Yrs old, sing several of Our Indian Hymns - in tunes whh the Children have learned from me. This family left here last fall & went down the river. The Child has learned them of its Br. & Sister.’

8 February 1834
‘As I walked past, some cried out ‘Nogomota’ - (let us sing). I went into the room & Commenced Singing, when all flocked in & joined in the hymn, spent some time thus - read a short chapter . . . & concluded with prayer.’

23 April 1834
‘Two Indians, who arrived from their hunt last night - made it [the traverse] this P. M. in a very Small Canoe. These men brought in 3 or $400 worth of furs, the result of the Spring Hunt.’

26 April 1834
‘This afternoon, an Indian came to the House (who had previously given to Mr [William] Davenport’s man, the result of his hunt -) who had taken a credit last fall, - & instead of paying his credit, wanted to trade the amo of his Pack. Mr D. told him he must pay his credit - the Indian refused. [the Indian] raised himself up his knife in his hand. Mr D. caught a lance, which was at hand, & told the Ind. to be peacable, or consequences might follow. The Ind. was intimidated, & put by his knife, after waiting an hour or more, & seeing that Mr D. was not to be moved, the Ind. settled his business & - went off. It is a common thing - for some Stubborn Ind to endeavor to intimidate the traders [by] drawing their knives, & the only way is, for the trader to show them, that he is not afraid of him. . . let an Indian see that you are perfectly calm & determined, & he will quail before you.’

7 March 1835
‘As an example of Indian providence - I will note a statement just made me by Osana Amik. Two or three lodges hunted - together. There were 5 Men - 6 Women & 6 Children (mostly small). Between the 15th Nov. & 15th Jan they have Killed 13 Moose 9 Bears & 2 Deer - not Counting Hedge Hogs - Rabbits & pheasants & furred Game.
13 Moose - Equal to 13 Common horses
9 Bears [ - Equal to ] 9 Small-Hogs
2 Deers [- Equal to ] 1 large do
when I passed them (to Yellow Lake) I bot some meat at one lodge - but at another of the lodges found them hungry & gave them part of my Meat, & other things, on my return I bot more meat. They came in from their hunt hungry & are now at the Lake depending on the fishing.’

29 March 1854
‘B. & Slaughter started early to watch their corners - (accompanied by 11 resolute follow[er]s - ) The Surveyor was closely followed by Stinson & Thompson with about 25 men. They were armed with Pistols… They took Perry’s & Barrett’s, who have claims on the Mineral Range. Chase, who also has a claim on the range, had taken a [blank in MS] claim directly back of the townsite, remarked to me that he supposed he could not hold his without fighting for it. I told him if he would give it up to me, I would go on to it - as I presumed they would acknowledge my right to preempt it. He agreed to it. He is to have an undivided fourth - (or 40 acres) which he is to pay for, & help me put up a shanty - on it. I went with him immediately and commenced a shanty - while at work the Surveyor came - running the Section line - northward & on my East line. He noted every street in his field book - thus considering it a town site - Stinson & Thompson with their retinue - were close at hand. The North line of the section was then run out to the lake - & the two parties marched out - side by side with the surveyor - who closed his days work at the Lake. The line is to be corrected back to the N. & S. line before the section is considered as surveyed - consequently no demonstration was made to take possession by the Messrs Stinson & Thompson & Co. The excitement was very great - & very plain talk dealt off to S. & T. B. & S. & party are determined - & will fight terribly if encroached upon. Blood will most certainly be spilled.

30 March 1854
‘Began to snow last night. Has continued to snow heavily all day. About 8 inches has fallen - Equal to 1 foot dry snow. No surveying today - all quiet.’

31 March 1854
‘Forest loaded with snow. Went to work on the shanty. Have got up all the timbers. No Surveying - too much snow on the timber - considerable excitement among the Miners & other claim holders concerning the course of Messrs S. & Thompson. B. & Slaughter will receive some very important accessions, when the Survey commences again. We learn there is a party - close at hand - from St. Paul - feel rather impatient for their arrival.’

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Finishing Three Oranges

Today, Faber and Faber is publishing the third and last volume of the diaries of Sergei Prokofiev, one of the 20th century’s most celebrated composers. Born in Russia, he spent much of his life in Paris, that is until the 1930s when he returned to live in his home country despite the difficulties of Stalin’s rule. While still in his teens, Prokofiev began keeping a diary, and he continued to do so until his early 40s, intelligently documenting his personal, artistic and public life with some literary flair.

Prokofiev was born in 1891 in Sontsovka (now part of Ukraine), into a musical family in which his mother often played the piano. He was something of a musical prodigy, composing his first piano piece aged five, and his first opera at nine. By the age of 11, he was already under professional musical tuition, and by 13 or so he had entered the St Petersburg Conservatory. He became a fixed part of the city’s music scene, albeit as a rebel against musical traditions. His father died in 1910, leaving Prokofiev without financial support; however, critical recognition from the renowned musicologist Alexander Ossovsky led to Prokofiev being offered a contract. His first piano concerts were premiered in 1912-1913, and 1913 also saw his first foreign trip, to Paris and London, where he encountered Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.

After 1918, Prokofiev lived abroad, first in the US, where his opera The Love for Three Oranges was staged, and where he met Carolina Codina (stage name Lina Llubera, but whom he also called Linette), a singer with a French father and Russian mother. They married in 1923, and subsequently had two sons, Sviatoslav and Oleg. That same year, the couple moved to live in Paris, where Prokofiev became a peripheral member of the Diaghilev set, writing several works for his ballet company.

By the early 1930s, Prokofiev was again choosing to take commissions from his home country, Russia, and to premiere his new works there. The Kirov Theater in Leningrad, for example, commissioned the ballet Romeo and Juliet, which would become one of his most famous works. In 1936, he returned to live in Moscow, and stayed domiciled in Russia for the rest of his life, despite being constrained musically by Stalin’s cultural policies. In this time, he wrote music for children, including Peter and the Wolf, and collaborated with Eisenstein on the historical epic Alexander Nevsky.

During the Second World War, state demands that composers should write in a ‘socialist realist’ style were lessened, and Prokofiev was able to compose more freely. He was evacuated together with a large number of other artists, initially to the Caucasus. By this time his relationship with the young writer Mira Mendelson had led to separation from Lina (though they never divorced). In 1944, Prokofiev moved to a composer’s colony outside Moscow where he created his Fifth Symphony, the one which would become his most popular. But after the war, government control over artistic expression again tightened, leading Prokofiev to withdraw from musical life. He died in 1953, on the same day as Stalin. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Boosey & Hawkes, or the Encyclopaedia Britannica biography on PBS.

Lina, who had been imprisoned for spying during Stalin’s latter years, outlived her estranged husband by many years, dying in London in 1989. She and her sons spent much of their lives promoting Prokofiev’s work. It was Lina who set up The Serge Prokofiev Foundation (Sprkfv) in 1983; and it is the Foundation that first published Prokofiev’s diaries. A good introduction to the diaries, by Sviatoslav, can be found on the Sprkfv website.

‘It is well known,’ he writes, ‘that my father was an indefatigable writer who kept a considerable correspondence with numerous personalities of his times. The author of a remarkable autobiography, he also wrote some short stories during his travels in his early years. Yet another side of his genius has remained in the shadow, that of an attentive, objective and critical writer with a good sense of humour, who fixed vividly his daily life, time and contemporaries in a diary that covers a great many years (1907-1933). This is of special interest since Prokofiev’s life spans a period particularly rich in political and cultural events throughout the whole world.’

Prokofiev’s diaries were first published in Russian in two volumes by Sprkfv (along with a third volume of photographs): a first part (1907-1918) covering Prokofiev’s youth, studies at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, journey to the US through Siberia and Japan; and a second part (1918-1933) covering his first steps in the West, first concerts in the US and Europe, work with Diaghilev in Paris, family and life in France. Subsequently, the diaries were translated into English by Anthony Phillips, and published by Faber and Faber in three volumes: 1907-1914, 1915-1923, 1924-1933. The first came out in 2006, the second in 2008 (see The Diary Review - Prokofiev’s literary gifts, though most of the links no longer work!), and the third has just been published today (1 November 2012) with the subtitle Prodigal Son.

According to Faber, ‘The Diaries document the complex emotional inner world of a Russian exile uncomfortably aware of the nature of life in Stalin’s Russia yet increasingly persuaded that his creative gifts would never achieve full maturity separated from the culture, people and land of his birthplace. Since even Prokofiev knew that the USSR was hardly the place to commit inner reflections to paper, the Diaries come to an end after June 1933 although it would be another three years before he, together with his wife and children, finally exchanged the free if materially uncertain life of a cosmopolitan Parisian celebrity for Soviet citizenship and the credo of Socialist Realism within which it struggled to straitjacket its artists.’

Here are several extracts taken from the second published volume of Prokofiev’s diaries, subtitled Behind the Mask.

21 August 1919
‘Stella tells me that she is probably going with her father for a two month tour to London. I responded: “Fine, then I’ll look for someone else.” This alarmed her: surely I didn’t place so little value on our relations that I could contemplate replacing her with “any old person”? We had dinner together somewhere in the country and spent the time very voluptuously.’

25 August 1919
‘I was in town. The copyist, scoundrel that he is, having copied 200 pages of score now refuses to do more on the grounds of ill health and tired eyes. It’s true he was cheap, at 25 cents a page. He said that when he recovers he will be able to resume, but at 60 cents a page. I said I would be happy to pay 80, but not to him. Still, it is not a good situation: I have to deliver it by 1 September and there are 50 pages still to do. I telephone Altschuler to see if he could suggest another copyist, but Altschuler has not paid his telephone bill and I could not get through to his number.

Stella and I went out of town for dinner. She is leaving on 15 September and since we have become reconciled to this she has been nicer and more loving.’

1 October 1919
‘Today is the contractual deadline for the score of Three Oranges, and I finished the last page at exactly two o’clock in the afternoon. “Terribly chic,” as Max Schmidthof would have said. Quite true; it was calculated to a nicety.’

12 October 1919
‘My first recital. A little early on in the season, but we had wanted a Sunday, and all the later ones had been taken. I was a little nervous of the Bach, but the performance passed off without incident. The Beethoven Contredanses were very good, also the Schumann Sonata. But the greatest success was reserved for the five shorter pieces of mine with which I concluded the programme, ending up with Suggestion Diabolique. This had an extraordinary success, reminiscent of the good old days in Petrograd. I gave six encores.’

18 Ocober 1919
‘Went [. . .] to the Stahls where it was nice and sunny. I flirted with my new admirer, Linette, who in spite of her youth - she is twenty - is quite demure. Stahl says, however, that this is only a facade, and indeed she agreed to sing in front of everyone provided that I accompanied her.

And Stella - well, it is now a month since she left, and I have not heard a word from her. About ten days ago I sent her a box of chocolates but I didn’t write either, although I have thought of her a lot.’

1 November 1919
‘When I arrived in New York [. . .] a letter from London was waiting for me, proposing a production of Three Oranges at Covent Garden in June. Now this is an event of truly enormous importance! A year ago I entered into correspondence with Bakst trying to get Three Oranges produced in the autumn season in Europe, but it came to nothing because Bakst was relying on Diaghilev, and I already knew that there would be no resurrection (at least in the operatic sense) for Diaghilev in that season. But now Coates, the clever fellow, has had the excellent sense to take up the idea. It if works, then hurrah! in six months I shall have a quick and brilliant entrée into Europe.’

9 December 1919
‘Linette came in the evening. It is a long time since anyone loved me as this dear girl seems to do.’

22 December 1919
‘Sent Mama a telegram via the Consul. Ilyashenko is going the day after tomorrow straight to Rostov, where Mama currently is. I must send some money with him for her. Although it will take him five weeks to get there, there may be a delay in the £100 cheque reaching her, the Bolsheviks may get really close to Rostov, in which case somehow or other she will have to get away to Constantinople.’

23 December 1919
‘Scraped together my last remaining money (there’s not much left) and bought a cheque for £40 for Constantinople (cheques for Russia are unobtainable). Ilyashenko came to see me in the evening; he loves my music very much. I played to him until I dropped, so that he would take the greatest care of my letter and cheque.

Bought a ticket to go to Chicago and took $100 for expenses. After paying for the apartment there are $80 remaining in the bank account. Not much. If the Chicago concert doesn’t produce any profit, I’ll have to borrow from Kucheryavy.’

24 December 1919
‘Practised the piano for Chicago. Lunched with Blanche, who, not having heard from Stella for over a month, is very annoyed with her. Some reports say that the theatre company is in trouble and will be coming back to American in January, but others say that everything is going well for them and Stella is “happy as a butterfly”. Well, so she may be. Although I always think of her with happiness, might I not be better concentrating more intently on Linette’s gentle devotion? And when, that evening, Linette and I took the boat on our way to the Stahls to celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas Dad, my heart somehow felt more loving towards Linette knowing that over there Stella was ‘as happy as a butterfly’.