Thursday, March 28, 2013

A swarme of bees

Adam Winthrop, a lawyer and prosperous Suffolk landowner, died all of 390 years ago today. He is remembered partly because he kept a diary, and partly because his immediate descendants were leading figures in the development of colonies in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Winthrop was born in 1548 in London but he spent some of his youth in Suffolk, where his father, also Adam (see picture), a master clothmaker, had purchased a manor at Groton. He studied at Magdalene, Cambridge, where he met John Still, and later married Alice Still. He trained for the law at the Inns of Court. In 1575, Winthrop was appointed steward of the college’s Kentish manors.

Alice died young, and Winthrop married Anne Browne, son of Henry Browne, a former clergyman of Groton. He acted as a minor landowner in his own right and as estate manager for his brother John, who had inherited Groton Manor, and performed legal services for local landowners. In 1592, he was appointed auditor of Trinity College and travelled regularly to Cambridge.

Over time, Winthrop acquired a theological library which he shared with clerical friends. He continued to correspond with John Still who became the Bishop of Bath and Wells. He died on 28 March 1623 at Groton. Winthrop’s son by Anne Browne, John, became a historically important figure - one of the founders of New England and the first Governor of Massachusetts - and Adam’s grandson, another John, was one of the founders of the Connecticut Colony. A little further information can be found from the DeLoria-Hurst family tree website, from Rootsweb, or the Miller-Anderson Histories.

Winthrop kept a diary which, because his son, John Winthrop, achieved such a high position in early American society, has proved of some historical importance. Indeed, extracts were published (by Tickner and Fields, Boston, 1864) in Life and Letters of John Winthrop by Robert C. Winthrop - which is freely available at Internet Archive - and in the so-called Winthrop Papers. Millersville University has used the diary to reproduced Winthrop’s library. Further information about Winthrop’s diary can also be found in Francis Bremer’s book, John Winthrop - America’s Forgotten Founding Father, much of which can be read at Googlebooks.

Here is an extract from the opening pages of the published diary (in the Appendix of Life and Letters of John Winthrop).

‘Special matters & observations noted in the yere of our Lords God 1595: by me A. W.

This yere Corne was very scarce vntil haruest, notwithstanding yet there was muche wheate & rye brought into Inglande from by yonde the Seas, whereby the price of corne was abated.

Also al other kinde of vitaile was in the begynnynge of this yere sould at great prices.

On Whitsonday I had a great swarme of bees, and on Munday in Witsonweeke ther did come a swarme of bees flyeng ouer Castleynes heathe into Carters grounde. [There were many superstitions about bees in Suffolk County; and, among others, that bad luck was portended by a stray swarm of bees settling on one’s premises, unclaimed by their owner.]

The same day & tyme Mr. Gatcheroode, Mr. Walton, Mr. Th. Waldgraue, Mr. Clopton & my selfe were ther present about the bounding of the heathe.

On Thursday the 3. of July, Mr. Brampton Gurdon had a soonne borne to him: who was baptized on Sunday the 13 of July and named John. Sr Wm Waldegraue and old Mr. John Gurdon were godfathers: and the Lady Moore & olde Mris. Gurdon were godmoothers.

This yeare at ye Sommer assises, viz: 22 Julij 1595, diuers Justices of the Peace were put out of ye Comission by the Q. comandement [. . .]

This yere the viiith Day of July my brother Roger Alibaster, & my sister his wife wth their iij sones, George, John & Thomas, & Sara their daughter, tooke their iourny from Hadleigh to goe into Irelande.

The same day it Thundred, hailed & Rayned very sore.

Willm Alibaster their eldest soonne departed from my house towards Cambrige the ixth of July, malcontent.

This yere harvest began not wth vs vn till the xijth of August & contynued vntill the _ of September.

The 27 of August Mr. Hanam fell sicke & recouerd the iiijth of Sept. The same day my brother killed a brocke [badger] wth his hounds. [. . .]

The 3, 4 & 5 daies of October Sr Wm Waldegraue mustred all souldiors viz. 400, vppon a hill nere Sudbury.

The 8 day of October my wyfe rydde to her father at Pritlewell in Essex & returned the xxth.

The xth day of October Adam Seely retourned home, & the same day I Recd a lre from my L. of Bathe. [Dr John Still]

In the moneth of Octobre, Ano 1595, Sr Thomas Heneage died, Vir bonus & pius, & on the same day & monethe Philip, late Erle of Arundell died in the Tower of London.

The XXXth day of Octobre Richard Bronde of Boxford sherman [cloth worker] Departed out of this life, ano etatis 59.

The 7 of November the Erle of Hertford was comitted to the Tower.

The xiiijth of Decembre I receyved a lre from my brother Alibaster written from Tenby in Wales concernynge his ill successe in his Irisshe iourny.

The _ Day of January the butcher of Netherden woodde was cruelly murdered viz. his hed was cutt of & his body devided into iiij qrtrs & wrapt in a sheet & layd vpon his owne horse, as he came from Bury markett; & so brought home to his wyfe, who vppo the sight therof pntly died. [. . .]

The last of Aprill Sr J. Puckringe, L. keper of the great seale died of the deadde palsey.

The xth of May Grymolde of Nedginge did hange himselfe in his Barne.

The xvijth of May Adam Seely went privilie from my house & caried awaye xv he did steale from Richard Edwardes, pro quo facto dignus est capistro.

The xxviijth of May Mr. Pie of Colchester died suddenly.

The xjth of June Sr Wm Waldegraue trayned his whole band of footemen & horsemen on Babar heathe.

The 16 of June my brother Winthrop departed from my house towards Ireland, & my brother Alibaster went wth him.’

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A glittering occasion

Noël Coward, one of the greatest international show business personalities of the 20th century, died 40 years ago today. His published diaries give a marvellously glittering sense of the London, Paris and New York theatre worlds, such as when he is describing a night at the Palladium, or hobnobbing with royalty; but they also provide a gossipy self-portrait of his own celebrity status.

Coward was born at Teddington, near London, in December 1899. He began performing on the stage at an early age, thanks to his mother answering an advert for child actors, and appeared in several productions with Sir Charles Hawtrey, a successful actor, comedian and director since the 1880s.

By the early 1920s, Coward was writing as well as performing, and had some success with his own play The Young Idea. It was The Vortex - with veiled references to drugs and homosexuality - performed in 1924 at the Everyman Theatre in Hampstead which brought him into the public eye. Several very successful plays - including Hay Fever and Cavalcade - followed in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In Private Lives, Coward starred with his famous stage partner Gertrude Lawrence.

Coward was also a prolific song writer and a talented singer. During the war, he entertained allied troops; and, clandestinely, he worked for the intelligence services. His play Blithe Spirit (1941) broke box-office records for a West End comedy. After the war, his work remained commercial, but did not achieve the heights of popularity he had experienced in the 1930s. In 1945, one of his short stories was turned into the very successful film Brief Encounter. He continued writing and producing plays, also for television, and found new popularity as a cabaret entertainer - both in the US and UK. From the 1950s, he became a tax exile, residing in Bermuda, Switzerland and finally Jamaica, returning regularly to London (as well as New York and Paris) to perform or oversee the production of a new show.

From 1956 to the end of the 1960s when ill health began to affect his work, Coward also became a film celebrity, starring in films such as Around the World in 80 DaysOur Man in Havana, and The Italian Job. And from the mid-1960s, revivals of his pre-war plays, as well as revues of his work became highly popular on both sides of the Atlantic. Towards the end of his life, he was dubbed the greatest living English dramatist, and Time magazine said of his best work it ‘seemed to exert not only a period charm but charm, period.’ He was knighted in 1969, and died on 26 March 1973. His estate was then administered by Graham Payn, Coward’s companion since the 1940s and 20 years his junior. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Musicals101 or the Noel Coward Society.

Part of Coward’s estate included 30 years worth of diaries. These were edited by Payn and Sheridan Morley for publication by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in 1982 as The Noël Coward Diaries. In their introduction, the editors summed up the author as ‘playboy of the West End world, jack of all its entertainment trades and master of most’ and ‘the most ineffably elegant and ubiquitous of entertainers’. In a second edition, brought out in 2000, the American theatre critic John Lahr observed that all of Coward’s diaries were written with a view to posterity, and as part of his ‘charm offensive’. A few pages can be read at Amazon.

7 November 1954
‘On Monday I appeared at the Royal Command Performance at the Palladium. It was a glittering occasion, crammed with stars, all shaking aspens. The moment I arrived in the dressing-room and found Bob Hope tight-lipped, Jack Buchanan quivering and Norman Wisdom sweating, I realized that the audience was vile, as it usually is on such regal nights. In the entr’acte Cole and Charles came round from the front and said it was the worst they had ever encountered and that I was to be prepared for a fate worse than death. This was exactly what I needed and so I bounded on to the stage like a bullet from a gun, sang ‘Uncle Harry’, ‘Mad Dogs” and ‘Bad Times’ very, very fast indeed and got the whole house cheering! I was on and off in nine and a half minutes. The next day the papers announced, with unexpected generosity, that I was the hit of the show. This was actually true but it wouldn’t have been if I had stayed on two minutes longer. Bob Hope had them where he wanted them, and then went on and on and lost them entirely. [. . .] After the show we lined up and were presented to the Queen, Prince Philip and Princess Margaret. The Queen looked luminously lovely and was wearing the largest sapphires I have ever seen. She was very charming, everyone was very charming, and that was that.’

5 June 1957
‘London has changed, even in eighteen months; the traffic is appalling and all elegance has fled from the West End. Coventry Street, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Shaftesbury Avenue have acquired a curious ‘welfare state’ squalor which reminds me of Moscow.’

1 February 1959
‘I have a charming suite here [at the Ritz hotel] and I much prefer it to the Dorchester. It is Edwardian in feeling and quiet and I have a brass ‘pineapple’ bed which makes me feel rather like the late Mrs George Keppel. I have definitely decided to do the Graham Greene film with Alex Guinness and Ralph Richardson. I have had two lunches with Carol [Reed, director of Our Man in Havana], who is treating me en prince. In fact in London this time I am definitely ‘hot’. Every time I go out I am beset with by reporters and photographers.’

16 December 1965
‘Sixty-six years ago today I was propelled from the womb. There were no electric trains, and motor cars were exciting curiosities. There was not even the thought of an aeroplane in the winter skies, and horse-buses clopped through the London streets. There were no buses in Teddington.’

31 December 1969
[This is the first entry since 7 September, and in fact his very last. His 70th birthday had occurred two weeks earlier and was the occasion of many social and artistic celebrations which he dubbed ‘Holy Week’.] ‘I opened the National Film Theatre season of my films with In Which We Serve, which I am the first to admit is a rattling good movie. I wept steadily throughout, right from the very beginning when they were building the ship in the shipyard. The BBC gave a terrific birthday party for me in the Lancaster Room at the Savoy which was a terrific success. My birthday lunch was given by the darling Queen Mother at Clarence House, where I received a crown-encrusted cigarette-box from her, an equally crown-encrusted cigarette-case from the Queen herself, and some exquisite cuff-links from Princess Margaret and Tony. During lunch the Queen asked me whether I would accept Mr Wilson’s offer of a knighthood. I kissed her hand and said, in a rather strangulated voice, “Yes, Ma’am.” Apart from all this my seventieth birthday was uneventful.’ [Nearly 30 years earlier, George VI had wished to award Coward a knighthood, but had been dissuaded by Winston Churchill.]

Monday, March 25, 2013

I have been relapsing

‘All my associations here are bad, and I can hardly shake them off. All the old feelings I have been trying to get rid of, seem revived: particularly vanity and wandering of mind.’ This is a typical self-recriminating entry from the short diary of Richard Hurrell Froude, born 210 years ago today. He is remembered today largely because of his early association with the Oxford Movement though he died very young, within a few years of its formation.

Froude, the son of a clergyman, was born on 25 March 1803, at Dartington, Devon, and educated at Eton and Oriel College, Oxford, where he came under the influence of John Keble. He was also a friend of Isaac Williams. Froude went on to become a Fellow of Oriel in 1826. In 1832, he went abroad for health reasons, accompanied by his father, Archdeacon Froude, and John Henry Newman.

Not long after Froude’s return, he, Keble, Williams and others founded the so-called Oxford Movement of High Church Anglicans who would soon move towards Anglo-Catholicism. Froude is particularly remembered for his essays in the Tracts of the Times which advanced the Oxford Movement’s opinions.

Still suffering from consumption, Froude went abroad again, this time to Barbados, but, not long after returning to England, died at his father’s house in Devon in 1836. Further information is available from Wikipedia, the Anglican History website or the Bureau of Public Secrets.

Froude’s colleagues decided to include his short diary, which is full of self-recrimination, with a collection of essays and letters, his literary remains, published the year after his death in several volumes. Here are a few extracts from the start of the diary and one from near the end (all contained in the first of the volumes and freely available at Internet Archive).

2 January 1826
‘I ought to read six hours a day.’

1 February 1826
‘Oxford. All my associations here are bad, and I can hardly shake them off. All the old feelings I have been trying to get rid of, seem revived: particularly vanity and wandering of mind. I do not really care for any of their opinions; and I will try to act as if “I had root in myself.” I will try to do steadily what I ought to do; and, as far as I can control the impulse of the moment, will never let a desire to obtain their good opinion be the motive of any of my slightest actions.

I ought to spend an hour at Bp. Butler, or Lloyd, and an hour at Greek Testament, two hours at Greek classics, one hour at Latin, and as much time more as I can about my prize, &c.’

21 February 1826
‘I have been relapsing into idle ways, but will try to turn over a new leaf.’

23 February 1826
‘I have had a long idle fit, partly caused by circumstances; but I shall not throw it off without recording an idle day. K. says I ought to attend to nothing but my essay, till I have finished it.’

30 March 1826
‘The standing for the fellowship is over, and I have done a great deal better than I expected: I am silly enough to be nervous about the event; but I hope it is not for my own sake. I know it will be, in the best way, for my interest, if I do my part. It will not be any excuse for my past idleness if I succeed; and I am resolved at any rate to make a better use of my time for the future. I put this down to try to keep myself from caring for the event; but I am afraid it is of no use. It is one o’clock; it will be settled in ten hours.’

10 April1826
‘I have had so long a spell of idleness, that I hardly know how to set to work to-day. I will try to make a good beginning to-morrow.’

12 April 1826
‘I have been a fool, and argued when it was bad taste to do so.’

11 May 1826
‘I have allowed myself to relapse into a most lax way, by idle speculations, and feel all the habits of regularity, which I have been trying for, deserting me.’

1 July 1826
‘I have got into a bad way, by writing down the number of hours. It makes me look at my watch constantly, to see how near the time is up, and gives me a sort of lassitude, and unwillingness to exert my mind.

I think it will be a bettor way to keep a journal for a bit, as I find I want keeping in order about more things than reading. I am in a most conceited way, besides being very ill-tempered and irritable. My thoughts wander very much at my prayers, and I feel hungry for some ideal thing, of which I have no definite idea. I sometimes fancy that the odd bothering feeling which gets possession of me is affectation, and that I appropriate it because I think it a sign of genius; but it lasts too long, and is too disagreeable, to be unreal. There is another thing which I must put down, if I don’t get rid of it before long: it is a thing which proves to me the imbecility of my own mind more than anything; and I can hardly confess it to myself; but it is too true.’

5 July 1826
‘Yesterday I was very indolent, but rather better; and then began to-day with the same slly idea in my mind; I will write it down if it bothers me much longer: but my energies were rather restored by reading some of my Mother’s journal at Vineyard. I did not recollect that I had been so unfeeling to her during her last year. I thank God some of her writings have been kept; that may be my salvation; but I have spent the evening just as idly as if I had not seen it. I don’t know how it is, but it seems to me, that the consciousness of having capacities for happiness, with no objects to gratify them, seems to grow upon me, and puts me in a dreary way.

Lord, have mercy upon me.’

7 July 1826
‘Spent the morning tolerably well; read my Mother’s journal and prayers, two hours: I admire her more and more. I pray God the prayers she made for me may be effectual, and that her labours may not be in vain; but that God in His mercy may have chosen this way of accomplishing them; and that my reading them so long after they were made, and without any intention of her’s, may be the means by which the Holy Spirit will awaken my spirit to those good feelings which she asked for in my behalf.

I hope, by degrees, I may get to consider her relics in the light of a friend, derive from them advice and consolation, and rest my troubled spirit under their shadow. She seems to have had the same annoyances as myself, without the same advantages, and to have written her thoughts down, instead of conversation.

As yet they have only excited my feelings, and not produced any practical result.

How immeasureably absurd will all this appear to me before long! Even writing it has done me good; I say this, that, when I read it over at some future time, I may not think I was a greater fool than I really was.’

25 March 1928
‘I am to day twenty-five years old; I have begun it with a specimen of my state. I did not know this morning that it was either my birthday or the Annunciation: and yet all the term, I have watched for the approach of Saints’ days for weeks before hand, while I had a holiday in prospect. This is very humiliating, and upon the whole I have every reason to be dissatisfied with myself for the conduct of this year.’

Friday, March 22, 2013

A laptop dancer

Happy 50th birthday Deborah Bull. One of Britain’s brightest arts talents, she started out as a dancer, achieving some fame, though progressed to be creative director at the Royal Opera House, and more generally an ambassador for dance. For a year she kept a diary - written for publication - during an extensive tour with The Royal Ballet. Pondering on her future, she writes in one entry about how, being too old for laptop dancing, she’s become a laptop dancer.

Deborah Bull was born in Derby on 22 March 1963, and brought up in Skegness, Kent. She learned dance locally from aged seven, but on the recommendation of a teacher went to study at the Royal Ballet School. In 1980 she won the prestigious Prix de Lausanne competition. The following year she joined the Royal Ballet; and in 1992 was appointed principal dancer.

In 1996, Bull took part in a debate about arts funding at the Oxford Union, and her performance as an eloquent and persuasive speaker was much praised. Thereafter, her dancing career was complemented by a more public life, as a speaker, writer and broadcaster. In 2002, she retired from the Royal Ballet, moving directly to become creative director for the Royal Opera House’s contemporary ballet division (ROH2). After much success in that role, she was appointed creative director of the Royal Opera House in 2008.

Bull left that position in 2012 to join King’s College London as Executive Director, King’s Cultural Institute. In this role, she says, she ‘provides leadership across the College to expand and enrich its cultural activites, partnership and collaborations’. Since 1998, when she was appointed to the Arts Council England board (to 2005), she has contributed widely to arts or arts-related organisations (including governor of the BBC, board member for South Bank Centre and Random Dance). Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia, The Guardian or Bull’s own website

In 1998, Bull published her first book with Dorling Kindersley - The Vitality Plan - which was released in eight languages. According to Bull it is ‘a straightforward, no-nonsense, myth-busting guide to losing weight and staying in shape’. She adds: ‘Incorporating Torje Eike’s Total Fitness Plan as well as the Good Guides to breakfast, lunch and dinner, the book was a bestseller in the UK and US.’ Eike was a physiotherapist with the Royal Ballet, and still works as a fitness adviser to athletes, and, apparently, for Mick Jagger.

Later the same year, Methuen published Dancing Away - A Covent Garden Diary - a personal journal kept by Bull during a world tour with the Royal Ballet (taking place while the Royal Opera House was being restructured). There is no introduction in the book, just a short epilogue at the end, which starts: ‘It’s just over a year since I started this diary, and what a year it has been. I have used up another passport, stamped with an itinerary which will have travel agents salivating at the thought of the commissions it earned. Touring in all its forms seems to have taken over my life; Royal Ballet tours, book tours, speaking tours, Rolls-Royce tours and always, in the background, Torje’s absence, on tour with the Rolling Stones. I can’t remember staying in one place for more than a few days.’

BBC Radio Four commissioned Bull to read extracts from the diary, and The Spectator reviewed it as ‘arguably the most amusing and fascinating dance book ever published’. Here are two extracts.

25 May 1997, Costa Mesa, California
‘Yesterday I set a new land speed record as the Bluebird in Sleeping Beauty. I do sometimes wonder what conductors are thinking of when they play around so much with the tempo. I don’t mind a bit of variety - spice of life and all that - but there comes a point when the choreography and the tempo can’t be reconciled, and the dancer, always at the mercy of the beat, is forced to compromise. Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway) this conductor wasn’t one of ours.

Today I also broke new ground when I was applauded in the middle of a 45-second solo. The American audiences are much more vociferous about their feelings, and today they let it be known that they liked my pas de chats on to pointe in the ‘Violente’ solo. It cheered me up no end as I wasn’t particularly looking forward to switching solos. I feel much more at home in my normal variation, ‘Coulante’, but then I have been doing it for about twelve years.’

23 March 1998
‘Another year older. I have just filled in a survey on the tube and noticed that I have moved one box further in the great pigeon hole of life. I can no longer tick the 25-34 age group. I’ve moved into the 35-44 bracket. Blimey. How did that happen? Last time I looked I was 21.

I have also realised with a jolt that table dancing is out of the question as an alternative career. Today I bought The Stage, whose arts news has been bang on this year, in an effort to find word about the implications for us of Gordon Brown’s budget. No luck, so I flicked through the employment pages instead. All the adverts seeking dancers (mostly for cruise liners and clubs) stipulate that applicants must be under the age of 35. I’ve missed my chance. I guess I’m more of a laptop dancer than a lap dancer, so it’s no great hardship. I suppose there’s always a career for me as a touch typist.

I’m on my way home from a meeting with Sir Richard Eyre; the name becomes flesh at last. He’s a strikingly good-looking man with such an air of weariness that I wanted to gather him up and take him home for a hot dinner. I was suprised to have been asked to contribute to the ongoing debate over the Opera House’s future which will form the basis of his report. But apparently various people had assured him that he really must hear what I had to say on the matter.’

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Poppies everwhere

Joseph Warren Stilwell, one of the US’s famous Second World War generals, was born 130 years ago today. He kept diaries for most his adult life, and although they have never, apparently, been published in print, the Hoover Institution has made them freely available on its website. They are dense, informally written in a quick staccato style, full of character and rich in detail of his busy army life.

Stilwell was born on 19 March 1883 in Palatka, Florida. His father, a doctor, brought him up with a disciplined regime, but he rebelled and became an unruly student. Eventually, he was entered in the US Military Academy at West Point, and, after graduating, returned to teach there. He married Winifred Smith in 1910 and they had five children. Having served in the Philippines, he worked with the American Expeditionary Force in Europe during World War I, as an intelligence officer, and was later awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. He also earned the nickname ‘Vinegar Joe’ for being a harsh critique of his subordinates.

After the war, Stillwell studied the Chinese language, and served in Tientsin in the 1920s and Peking in the 1930s. Just prior to World War II, he was initially selected to plan and command the Allied invasion of North Africa, but instead was assigned to Chiang Kai-Shek to command Chinese armies in Burma. He arrived in time to see the collapse of the Allied defence, and the Japanese cut Burma off from all land and sea supply routes to China, so he personally led his staff to Assam, India, on foot.

Through the Second World War, Stillwell served as commanding general of all US forces in China, Burma and India. He was appointed commander of the US 10th Army in the Pacific in August 1945 and received the surrender of more than 100,000 Japanese troops in the Ryuku Islands; and then was Commanding General of the Sixth US Army near San Franciso until his death in 1946. Biographies of Stillwell can be found at Wikipedia, and the China-Burma-Theatre, Presidio of Monterey and Yonkers history websites.

Stillwell kept a diary for all his adult life. After his death, the manuscripts were deposited, along with the rest of his papers, at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. Stillwell’s World War II diaries were the first to made available online on the Hoover Institution website, and subsequently the rest of the diaries - 1900-1939, 1945-1946 - were also made freely available. The Stillwell family retains the copyright, and the online versions are security coded to disallow text copying. However, I’m sure the family won’t mind me reproducing one entry from his service in France in 1919 during World War I which gives an excellent flavour of his informal and staccato - but nevertheless highly engaging - style.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Bertie in the Middle East

‘The anniversary of my Parents Wedding Day, what a sad day for poor Mama! We started at 10 A.M. sight seeing.’ This is Bertie, Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII writing in a diary during the first few days of a trip to the Middle East. The journey had been organised by his mother, Queen Victoria, who had never much liked her son, and partly blamed him for husband Albert’s death. The diary has just been made available online - with images of the handwritten pages and a transcribed text - as part of an exhibition of mid-19th century photographs taken by Francis Bedford on the tour. Although biographers have had access to other of Bertie’s diaries, they are said to be scrappy and laconic, and none - as far as I know - have ever been published.

Albert Edward (always known to his family as Bertie) was born in 1841 in London, the eldest son of Victoria and her prince consort, Albert. Apart from various other titles, he was created Prince of Wales when one month old. From around the age of seven he was subjected to a strict educational programme devised by Prince Albert. He attended both Oxford and Cambridge universities, and in 1860 undertook the first tour of North America by an heir to the British throne. The following year he was serving with the army in Ireland, where he had a liaison with an actress that caused a major scandal. Prince Albert visited his son to admonish him, and died two weeks later. Queen Victoria held her son partly responsible for the death of his father. She withdrew almost completely from public life, and thereafter denied Bertie any control over affairs of state, court and the royal family. Soon after Albert’s death, Bertie was sent on an extensive tour of the Middle East.

In 1863, Bertie married Alexandra, eldest daughter of Denmark’s Prince Christian (later king), and they had five children that survived to adulthood. They established themselves at Marlborough House in London and Sandringham House in Norfolk, and entertained on a lavish scale. Bertie, indeed, played a free-and-easy part in London life, and travelled abroad often. He had many affairs, some causing scandals, and was a familiar figure in the worlds of racing, sailing and gambling. When Victoria died in 1901, Edward succeeded to the throne as Edward VII, and he set about trying to restore some splendour to the monarchy, starting with an elaborate coronation in 1902

Edward VII - nicknamed ‘Uncle of Europe’ - was related to most other Continental royal families, a circumstance that led him to travel abroad often to help Britain’s foreign policy. He was the first British monarch to visit Russia. At home, he supported the government’s major military reforms, and he founded the Order of Merit to reward those who distinguished themselves in science, art or literature. In the last year of his life, King Edward was involved in a constitutional crisis brought about by the refusal of the Conservative majority in the Lords to pass the Liberal budget of 1909. He died in May 1910, before the situation could be resolved, and was succeeded by his son who became George V. There is no shortage of biographical information online, from the British Monarchy website, Wikipedia, the BBC, or from biography reviews at The Guardian or The New York Times.

Bertie was certainly a diarist, if only an occasional one. None of his journals have been published, but several biographers quote from, or mention, them. In describing his sources in The Importance of Being Edward - King in Waiting 1841-1901 (John Murray, 2000), Stanley Weintraub says: ‘King Edward’s diary survives at Windsor and is quoted by biographers and editors; however it is scrappy and usually laconic.’ Now, though, The Royal Collection Trust, established in 1993 by the Queen and chaired by Prince Charles, has made one Bertie’s diaries, of a trip to the Middle East, freely available online. The online publication - which was given little publicity of its own - is part of a bigger event, an exhibition of early photographs from the Middle East: Cairo to Constantinople.

According to the organisers: ‘This exhibition documents the Prince of Wales’ journey through the work of Francis Bedford, the first photographer to travel on a royal tour. It explores the cultural and political significance Victorian Britain attached to the region, which was then as complex and contested as it remains today. The tour took the Prince to Egypt, Palestine and the Holy Land, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece. He met rulers, politicians and other notable figures, and travelled in a manner unassociated with royalty - by horse and camping out in tents. On the royal party’s return to England, Francis Bedford’s work was displayed in what was described as “the most important photographic exhibition that has hitherto been placed before the public”.’

The following extracts are taken directly from the online exhibition.

10 February 1862
‘The anniversary of my Parents Wedding Day, what a sad day for poor Mama! We started at 10 A.M. sight seeing. We went first to the Palace which is a handsome building. The “Shönheits Gallerie” is well worth seeing, & the portraits are well painted, the pictures of Lady Ellenborough & Lady Milbanke (wh. are amongst them) are very good. The Ballroom is very handsome & so is the “Shlachten Saal.” The Queen was kind enough to receive me in her boudoir, wh. was very prettily arranged. She seems a very nice person, & must have been very pretty; I also made the acquaintance of her two sons, who seem nice, unaffected lads. We saw the two Theatres wh. adjoin the Palace, & a very pretty “Winter garten” with foreign plants & birds in it. From the Palace we visited the studios of Kaulbach, Pilaty [sic], Shraudolph [sic], Anschütz & Schwind. The two first are the two most celebrated painters. Kaulbach, showed us a beautiful fresco of the “Reformation” wh. he is painting & also a completed fresco of the “Battle of Salamis” wh. I admired immensely. Piloty, who painted the celebrated picture of Nero at the burning of Rome, which I saw last year at the Exhibition of pictures at Cologne, had not much in his studio, but the few things he had, we admired very much. We divided our day by lunching at 1.50. & Count Perponcher, who is now Prussian Minister at Munich, came to luncheon. After having eaten our fill, we proceeded in carriages to see the “Bavaria,” which is a monster female figure in bronze, cast out of the French guns wh. were taken in 1814 & 15. We went up inside the figure, & 7 of us could sit in the head, & 2 in the nose & eyes. From thence we visited the studio of Adam who paints animals, & very well too, we looked into Schwantaler’s [sic] studio were [sic] there were some good statues, but he was not at home. We then saw the Basilica, a very beautiful Church in Bysantine [sic] architecture, with a good deal of gold inside; it was built by King Louis of Bavaria (who has now abdicated) before going home we saw some excellent photographs, at a photographers called Albert. Mr. Bonar dined with us - & after dinner Louis, Keppel, Meade & I took a short walk. There was a very pretty ball going on at our Hotel, & Louis & I peeped into the room fr. a staircase, it seemed very gay & the ladies were well dressed & were decidedly pretty.’

21 May 1862
‘In the forenoon I wrote letters to England, wh. occupied all my time till luncheon. At 3 o’clock we rode to the Arsenal, with Sir H. Bulwer. The Capidan Pasha received us, & we had pipes & coffee. We then went into a Caique belonging to the Sultan wh. he has put at my disposal & we visited another part of the Arsenal, wh. is small but seems tolerably complete. We then took leave of the Capidan Pasha, got into our Caique & rode [sic] down the Golden Horn into the Bosphorus & went on board to see the Turkish ship that had met us at the Dardanelles. We remained a short time on board & then went ashore, not far off fr. the Sultan’s Palace, got on our horses again & rode back to the Embassy thro’ part of the town. In the evening [. . the] Sultan’s band played during dinner & very well.’

27 May 1862
‘At about 10.30. E. Leiningen Moore & I went to the Photographic Studio of M. Abdullah & were photographed (very successfully) “en carte de visite.” Abdullah, did took another photograph at the Embassy of a group of Sir H. & Lady Bulwer & all his staff, & myself & my suite. [. . .] At 4.30. we left the Embassy after having taken leave of Lady Bulwer. We then rode down to the landing place near Tophané Mosque, & were rowed about in our caiques passed past Seraglio Point; at a little after 6 we went on board the “Osborne” & took leave there of Sir H. Bulwer & all the Attachés &c. At 6.30. we wished Constantinople adieu, & steamed slowly down the Bosphorus leaving the beautiful town gradually in the distance, after having spent there a most agreeable week.’

9 June 1862
‘At Sea – A lovely day. A[t] 7. A.M. we had a bathe from the ship, in spite of one of the sailors telllin telling us that a shark of 10 feet long had been seen. In the middle of the day, we went through the “Passage de L’Ours” past the Island of Caprera, & saw Garibaldi’s house in the distance, & then passed thro’ the Straits of Bonnifacio.’

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Doomed to beggary

‘Could you see and hear what I have seen and heard during this Rural Ride, you would no longer say, that the House “works well.” Mrs. Canning and your children are dear to you; but, Sir, not more dear than are to them the wives and children of, perhaps, two hundred thousand men, who, by the Acts of this same House, see those wives and children doomed to beggary.’ This is William Cobbett, an early 19th century campaigning journalist whose diary offers some of the best early travel pieces about England - Rural Rides - as well as a focus for his criticisms of government policy towards farmers and the need for parliamentary reform.

Cobbett was born in Farnham, Surrey, on 9 March 1763, the son of a tavern keeper. He was educated at home, and worked as a farm labourer until 1783 when he moved to London. There he took a position as a clerk for a year, before joining the army and seeing service in he British colony of New Brunswick. But, after making accusations of theft against some officers, he left the army, escaping to France, first, and then the United States, where he published pro-British pamphlets under the pseudonym of Peter Porcupine. Before leaving England, though, in early 1792, he had married Anne Reid, an English woman he had first met in New Brunswick.

Cobbett returned to Britain in 1800, where he applied himself to journalism. At first, he started a magazine called The Porcupine but then, having sold his interest in that, he launched Political Register, which was often critical of the government. In 1809, for example, he attacked the use of German troops to put down a mutiny in Ely, and subsequently was tried and convicted for sedition and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment in Newgate Prison. When released he continued his popular campaigns, and, by reducing the price of Political Register, turned it into the main newspaper for the working class. In 1817, on rumours that he might be arrested again for sedition, Cobbett fled to the US. There he wrote a text on English grammar and, with the help of a friend in London, continued to publish Political Register. By the time he returned to England, in late 1819, he had lost all influence, and was poor, but still he remained politically active.

In 1821, Cobbett began a tour of Britain on horseback, which led to a series of articles in Political Register, later published as Rural Rides. His single greatest concern at this time was the distressed state of English farming, and the only solution, he argued, was for a radical reform of parliament, including universal manhood suffrage. He wrote in Political Register that his purpose in riding through England was to hear ‘what gentlemen, farmers, tradesmen, journeymen, labourers, women, girls, boys, and all have to say; reasoning with some, laughing with others, and observing all that passes’. In 1830, he was tried and acquitted of sedition. In 1832, he was elected to Parliament for Oldham, focusing his energies on attacking corruption in government and the 1834 Poor Law. He died in 1835. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Dictionary of Canadian Biography, or Peter Landry’s website.

Rural Rides, which is considered Cobbett’s most enduring work, is essentially a collection of diaries written on journeys across England between 1821 and 1832. The 1853 version of Rural Rides, published by A. Cobbett, is available at Internet Archive, as are reprints published a century later with an introduction by the historian Asa Briggs. The much-issued two volume 1885 edition by Reeves and Turner is also available at Internet Archive. The Vision of Britain Through Time website has put chunks of Cobbett’s text into chapters with maps of the areas covered.

10 January 1822
‘Lewes is in a valley of the South Downs, this town is at eight miles distance, to the south-south-west or thereabouts. There is a great extent of rich meadows above and below Lewes. The town itself is a model of solidity and neatness. The buildings all substantial to the very outskirts; the pavements good and complete; the shops nice and clean; the people well-dressed; and, though last not least, the girls remarkably pretty, as, indeed, they are in most parts of Sussex; round faces, features small, little hands and wrists, plump arms, and bright eyes. The Sussex men, too, are remarkable for their good looks. A Mr. Baxter, a stationer at Lewes, showed me a farmer’s account book, which is a very complete thing of the kind. The inns are good at Lewes, the people civil and not servile, and the charges really (considering the taxes) far below what one could reasonably expect.

From Lewes to Brighton the road winds along between the hills of the South Downs, which, in this mild weather, are mostly beautifully green even at this season, with flocks of sheep feeding on them. Brighton itself lies in a valley cut across at one end by the sea, and its extension, or wen, has swelled up the sides of the hills and has run some distance up the valley. The first thing you see in approaching Brighton from Lewes, is a splendid horse-barrack on one side of the road, and a heap of low, shabby, nasty houses, irregularly built, on the other side. This is always the case where there is a barrack. How soon a reformed parliament would make both disappear!

Brighton is a very pleasant place. For a wen [a large overcrowded city] remarkably so. The Kremlin, the very name of which has so long been a subject of laughter all over the country, lies in the gorge of the valley, and amongst the old houses of the town. The grounds, which cannot, I think, exceed a couple or three acres, are surrounded by a wall neither lofty nor good-looking. Above this rise some trees, bad in sorts, stunted in growth, and dirty with smoke. As to the “palace” as the Brighton newspapers call it, the apartments appear to be all upon the ground floor; and, when you see the thing from a distance, you think you see a parcel of cradle-spits, of various dimensions, sticking up out of the mouths of so many enormous squat decanters. Take a square box, the sides of which are three feet and a half, and the height a foot and a half. Take a large Norfolk-turnip, cut off the green of the leaves, leave the stalks nine inches long, tie these round with a string three inches from the top, and put the turnip on the middle of the top of the box. Then take four turnips of half the size, treat them in the same way, and put them on the corners of the box. Then take a considerable number of bulbs of the crown-imperial, the narcissus, the hyacinth, the tulip, the crocus, and others; let the leaves of each have sprouted to about an inch, more or less according to the size of the bulb; put all these, pretty promiscuously, but pretty thickly, on the top of the box. Then stand off and look at your architecture. There! That’s “a Kremlin!” Only you must cut some church-looking windows in the sides of the box. As to what you ought to put into the box, that is a subject far above my cut.

Brighton is naturally a place of resort for expectants, and a shifty ugly-looking swarm is, of course, assembled here. Some of the fellows, who had endeavoured to disturb our harmony at the dinner at Lewes, were parading, amongst this swarm, on the cliff. You may always know them by their lank jaws, the stiffeners round their necks, their hidden or no shirts, their stays, their false shoulders, hips and haunches, their half-whiskers, and by their skins, colour of veal kidney-suet, warmed a little, and then powdered with dirty dust. These vermin excepted, the people at Brighton make a very fine figure. The trades-people are very nice in all their concerns. The houses are excellent, built chiefly with a blue or purple brick; and bow-windows appear to be the general taste. I can easily believe this to be a very healthy place: the open downs on the one side and the open sea on the other. No inlet, cove, or river; and, of course, no swamps. I have spent this evening very pleasantly in a company of reformers, who, though plain tradesmen and mechanics, know I am quite satisfied more about the questions that agitate the country than any equal number of lords.’

25 November 1822 [Some months earlier George Canning had been made Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons in the government led by Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool.]
‘In looking back into Hampshire, I see with pleasure the farmers bestirring themselves to get a County Meeting called. There were, I was told, nearly five hundred names to a Requisition, and those all of land-owners or occupiers. Precisely what they mean to petition for I do not know; but (and now I address myself to you, Mr. Canning,) if they do not petition for a reform of the Parliament, they will do worse than nothing. You, Sir, have often told us, that the HOUSE, however got together, “works well.” Now, as I said in 1817, just before I went to America to get out of the reach of our friend, the Old Doctor, and to use my long arm; as I said then, in a Letter addressed to Lord Grosvenor, so I say now, show me the inexpediency of reform, and I will hold my tongue. Show us, prove to us, that the House “works well,” and I, for my part, give the matter up. It is not the construction or the motions of a machine that I ever look at: all I look after is the effect. When, indeed, I find that the effect is deficient or evil, I look to the construction. And, as I now see, and have for many years seen, evil effect, I seek a remedy in an alteration in the machine. There is now nobody; no, not a single man, out of the regions of Whitehall, who will pretend, that the country can, without the risk of some great and terrible convulsion, go on, even for twelve months longer, unless there be a great change of some sort in the mode of managing the public affairs.

Could you see and hear what I have seen and heard during this Rural Ride, you would no longer say, that the House “works well.” Mrs. Canning and your children are dear to you; but, Sir, not more dear than are to them the wives and children of, perhaps, two hundred thousand men, who, by the Acts of this same House, see those wives and children doomed to beggary, and to beggary, too, never thought of, never regarded as more likely than a blowing up of the earth or a falling of the sun. It was reserved for this “working well” House to make the fire-sides of farmers scenes of gloom. These fire-sides, in which I have always so delighted, I now approach with pain. I was, not long ago sitting round the fire with as worthy and as industrious a man as all England contains. There was his son, about 19 years of age; two daughters from 15 to 18; and a little boy sitting on the father’s knee. I knew, but not from him, that there was a mortgage on his farm. I was anxious to induce him to sell without delay. With this view I, in an hypothetical and round-about way, approached his case and at last, I came to final consequences. The deep and deeper gloom on a countenance, once so cheerful, told me what was passing in his breast, when turning away my looks in order to seem not to perceive the effect of my words, I saw the eyes of his wife full of tears. She had made the application; and there were her children before her! And, am I to be banished for life if I express what I felt upon this occasion! And, does this House, then, “work well?” How many men, of the most industrious, the most upright, the most exemplary, upon the face of the earth, have been, by this one Act of this House, driven to despair, ending in madness or self-murder, or both! Nay, how many scores! And, yet, are we to be banished for life, if we endeavour to show, that this House does not “work well?” However, banish or banish not, these facts are notorious: the House made all the Loam which constitute the debt: the House contracted for the Dead Weight: the House put a stop to gold-payments in 1797: the Home unanimously passed Peel’s Bill. Here are all the causes of the ruin, the misery, the anguish, the despair, and the madness and self-murders. Here they are all. They have all been acts of this House; and yet, we are to be banished if we say, in words suitable to the subject, that this House does not “work well!” ’

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A dignified Speaker

John Evelyn Denison, Viscount Ossington, died 140 years ago today. He was an unremarkable politician except for the fact that he held the office of Speaker in the House of Commons and kept a diary record of his 14 years in the post. Often dry and procedural, the diary comes alive when Denison writes about his own decisions being praised by others, not least the future Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Denison also hands down occasional pearls of wisdom such as when the House was unexpectedly in a ‘a touchy, irritable state’ - ‘such is always the case with the sharpest hurricanes. The barometer gives no notice.’

Denison was born in 1800 at Ossington, Nottinghamshire, the eldest son of a wool merchant. He was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, and in 1820 on the death of his father inherited the Ossington estates with much land. He was said to be a progressive landlord, interested in agricultural improvements; and, later, he was president of the Royal Agricultural Society. In 1823, he became a Whig MP, and in 1827, he married Charlotte, daughter of William, Duke of Portland, but they had no children.

Throughout his life, Denison sat in Parliament for various constituencies, including Newcastle-under-Lyme, Hastings, South and North Nottinghamshire, and Malton. In 1857, he was chosen to be Speaker of the House of Commons, a position he retained until 1872, when he resigned and was created Viscount Ossington. He died a few months later, on 7 March 1873. A little further biographical information is available from Wikipedia or Nottingham University’s website for manuscripts and special collections.

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry (log-in required) on Denison says he was fairly well regarded as speaker: ‘A consolidator rather than an innovator (he prevented, for example, the introduction of printed notice of questions to ministers), he none the less defended the financial rights of the Commons against the Lords, deploring the latter’s action in rejecting the bill of 1860 repealing the paper duty, and opposing the Lords’ introduction of a financial provision into a divorce bill. The tories in 1862 hoped he might be encouraged to retire and be replaced by Spencer Walpole. Denison was the last speaker to speak and vote in committee, and he voted against the government on the budget on 9 June 1870. He was a dignified speaker but was thought by contemporaries sometimes lacking in firmness.’

For the 14 years that he held the post of Speaker, Denison kept a diary record of his duties and decisions. This journal was found in a box many years later. Considered initially too technical for public interest, it was only printed for private circulation. However, in 1900, John Murray decided it might sell to a wider audience and so published it as Notes from My Journal when Speaker of the House of Commons. This edition is freely available at Internet Archive.

The published diary is often dense with the detail of Parliamentary procedure, nevertheless Denison did a fair job of keeping it interesting with lucid explanations of issues that were, perhaps, out of the ordinary or worth setting down. And though he must have meant it to be a dry and official record, Denison does sometimes write about his personal feelings, especially when others have praised him for decisions! Here are several extracts.

30 April 1862
‘I have been named by the Queen as one of the Commissioners to represent Her Majesty on the occasion of opening the International Exhibition. I wrote to Lord Eversley to ask him how I should go dressed on such an occasion. He answered, in plain black gown and wig. I forwarded this opinion to the Lord Chancellor, who repelled the idea in a very amusing letter, and said he had settled to go in his gold gown; he saw no necessary connection between the gold gown and the gold coach. I have decided against the lumbering gold coach for many reasons: 1) I should probably stick fast in the new granite; 2) I should have to go at a foot’s pace while in company with others who could and would trot; 3) I could not bear to drag all the officers of the House and my servants on foot such a long distance. I am not going to Court to pay my respects to the Queen; I am not going with the House of Commons as a body, and at their head.’

1 May 1862
‘The opening of the International Exhibition took place this day at one o’clock. The House of Commons adjourned from Wednesday to six o’clock on Thursday to allow the attendance of the Ministers, of myself, and of the members generally at the ceremony. I had decided to go in my gold gown, but not in the lumbering gold coach. I borrowed a good London coach of Lord Chesham. I put my coachman and two footmen in their State liveries. I added good cloths, and bows of ribbon to my horses’ furniture.

At twelve, I set off to Buckingham Palace, taking Lord Charles Russell and the mace and my trainbearer in the coach. Arrived at Buckingham Palace they desired me to drive forward near the gate, as I was to lead the procession. Royal processions move in the inverse order of precedency, the lowest in rank going first. So my carriage was first, then Lord Palmerston, then Lord Derby, I think, Lord Sydney, the Lord Chancellor, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Prince Oscar of Sweden, the Crown Prince of Prussia, the Duke of Cambridge.

We were not ready till a quarter to one. We were to be at the Exhibition Buildings at one. I led the way at a fair trot. (Where should I have been in my gold coach - leading the way at a foot’s pace?)

We arrived at the building at one. The rest of the procession was arranged in the building, waiting for the Royal Commissioners to complete the line. I was to walk first (as I had led the way in my carriage). Lord Palmerston was desired to walk by my side. He said: “No, the Speaker should walk alone; I will follow”. I said: “Of course, as you please, but I should think it a great honour if we might proceed together”. Lord Palmerston said: “Oh, if you wish it, certainly”. [. . .]

As we walked along I could gauge the popularity of Lord Palmerston. The moment he came in sight, throughout the whole building, men and women, young and old, at once were struck as by an electric shock. “Lord Palmerston! Here is Lord Palmerston! Bravo! Hurrah! Lord Palmerston for ever!” And so it went on through the whole building. One voice: “I wish you may be Minister for the next twenty years”. “ Well, not unlikely,” said Lord Taunton, “he would only be a little more than a hundred.” ’

10 March 1863
‘We went in a special train from Paddington to Windsor, leaving 10:30, and being an hour on the road. Carriages were ready to take us to the chapel. Lady C posted down in her own carriage, leaving 8:30, reaching St. George’s Chapel at a quarter past eleven; she escaped much cold and draughts by this, and greatly preferred it. I went in my black velvet suit. The Lord Chamberlain said that was the proper dress. He told this to the Lord Chancellor, who, however, would go in his gold gown and his wig. The Lord Chamberlain said: We had no function to perform; we had no part to play in the ceremony, we were invited guests like others. I followed the advice of the Lord Chamberlain; the Lord Chancellor went in his gold gown. The seat allotted to me was the dean’s seat, close by the door. It was a very magnificent sight - rich, gorgeous and imposing. I don’t know how I could say enough about the magnificence of the spectacle. The pageant was admirably got up, and was well performed throughout. Beautiful women were arrayed in the richest attire, in bright colours, blue, purple, red, and covered with diamonds and jewels. Grandmothers looked beautiful: Lady Abercom, Lady Westminster, Lady Shaftesbury. Among the young, Lady Spencer, Lady Castlereagh, Lady Carmarthen, were most bright and brilliant. The Knights of the Garter in their robes looked each of them a fine picture - Lord Russell looked like a hero who could have walked into the castle court and have slain a giant. The Queen sat in her closet on the left hand side of the altar, looking up the chapel and high above it. But she did not affect any concealment. She looked constantly out of the window of her closet and sometimes leaned over, with her body half out of the window, to take a survey down the church. She was dressed in plain black up to the throat, with the blue ribbon over her shoulder, and a sort of plain mob cap.

As each of the royal persons with their attendants walked up the chapel, at a certain point each stopped and made an obeisance to the Queen: the Princess Mary, the Duchess of Cambridge, the Princess of Prussia, the Princess Alice of Hesse, the Princess Helena, the Princess Christian, etc.: each in turn formed a complete scene. The Princess Alexandra with her bridesmaids made the last and the most beautiful scene. The Princess looked beautiful, and very graceful in her manner and demeanour. When her eyes are cast down she has a wonderful power of flashing a kind of sidelong look.’

4 June 1863
‘Mr. Tollemache wishing to make a personal explanation as to some observations of Mr. Gladstone’s about the Committee on the Holyhead packet - Then rose Colonel Douglas Pennant - Mr. Gladstone explained - Then rose Mr. H. Herbert - I had to interfere. Mr. Herbert moved that the House do adjourn. Then Mr. Hennessey spoke, all attacking Mr. Gladstone - I had again to interfere. Then Lord Robert Cecil tried to get a stronger expression from me about Mr. Gladstone’s words, but without success. The whole thing was verging on great irregularity, reference to past debates, etc. Still a personal explanation could hardly be permitted, and so the thing grew in dimensions, always growing more irregular as it went on.

The House was in a touchy, irritable state; the slightest step on my part might have raised a storm. It was a flare up all in a moment. But such is always the case with the sharpest hurricanes. The barometer gives no notice.’

26 July 1866 [The Reform League had been established a year earlier to press for manhood suffrage and the ballot in Great Britain. It campaigned unsuccessfully for the Reform Bill in 1866, and successfully for the Rerform Act in 1867. This diary entry is dated three days after the so-called ‘Hyde Park Railings Affair’.]
‘Great anxiety prevailed about the condition of things between the Secretary of State, Mr. Walpole, and the Reform League. The parks had been invaded, the iron railings torn down. There had been an interview between Mr. Beales, the Chairman of the League, and Mr. Walpole, and Mr. Beales had posted placards to say that Mr. Walpole had given way, and that a meeting would be held in the park on Monday. There was a feeling that Mr. Walpole had displayed great weakness.

At the morning sitting of Thursday, 26th July, Mr. Disraeli came to me and spoke of the state of affairs, and asked me what I thought of an Address to the Crown, asking the Crown to grant the use of the park for the purposes of general recreation, but not for meetings on political or religious subjects. I said that on the first blush such a course seemed to me to be open to the greatest objection. Mr. Walpole had spoken positively as to the law of the case, without doubt or reservation. Sir George Grey had concurred with him, and had supported him. The House accepted the statement without question. They had therefore already all they could obtain by a fresh answer from the Crown to an Address. To show hesitation or doubt at such a moment would be ruinous. It would justify doubt on the other side, and so give colour to the pretensions of the League. To open the question by an Address to the Crown would bring forth stormy remonstrances from the Radicals, and counter propositions.

I urged the Government to stand firmly on the ground that had been taken. All that the public required was a show of firmness on the part of the Government; at present an impression prevailed that great weakness had been exhibited.

The Government stood to their declarations, and there was a satisfactory debate in the House of Commons in the evening. I congratulated Mr. Disraeli on the result. He said to me: “It has turned out very well. I followed your advice exactly.” ’

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Diary briefs

Helga Weiss’s life in a concentration camp - Viking, The Telegraph

Ed Koch’s war diary - New York Post, Daily Mail

Life of a First World War nurse - Abertay University, The Guardian

David Livingstone’s diary to go on show - BBC

Newly published diary of Franz Ferdinand - Spiegel Online

Diary of Indian sea cadet who disappeared - The Hindu

New light shed on old murder case - New Zealand Herald

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Acted Macbeth very unequally

‘I flung my whole soul into every word I uttered, acting my very best and exciting the audience to a sympathy even with the glowing words of fiction, whilst these dreadful deeds of real crime and outrage were roaring at intervals in our ears and rising to madness all round us.’ This is the great British actor, William Macready, born 220 years ago today, writing in his diary about a performance of Macbeth in New York. During the show more than 20 people died in a riot caused by the rivalry between Macready and another Shakespearean actor, Edwin Forrest.

Macready was born on 3 March 1793 into a theatrical family, and educated at Rugby. Although he intended to go to Oxford, he joined his father’s ailing company, appearing as Romeo when only 17. Soon, though, he fell out with his father, went to Bath for two years, and then, in 1816, made his debut on the London stage as Orestes in Racine’s The Distressed Mother. His stature as an actor developed with leading roles such as Rob Roy, Richard III and William Tell. In 1826, he married Catherine Atkins, and they had two children who survived into adulthood.

Subsequently, in the late 1830s, Macready became manager of Covent Garden, and, in the 1840s, of Drury Lane. He was an important person in the development of the theatre, insisting on rehearsals, accurate costumes and appropriate sets. He also sought to employ original texts in his revivals of Shakespeare’s plays. Macready made several trips to the US. During the final one of these, in 1849, a longstanding dispute with the US actor Edwin Forrest erupted and caused a riot - in which at least 25 were killed - at the Astor Place Theatre.

Macready retired after a performance of Macbeth at Drury Lane in February 1851. His wife died the following year, and he remarried in 1860. His second wife, Cecile Louise Frederica Spencer, gave him one more son, Nevil. Macready himself died in 1873. Further information is available from Wikipedia, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (with login), or many out-of-copyright biographies available at Internet Archive: Macready’s Reminiscences and Selections from His Diaries and Letters edited by Sir Frederick Pollock; A life of William Charles Macready by W. T. Price; Macready as I Knew Him by Lady Pollock; and William Charles Macready by William Archer.

Macready was a meticulous and interesting diarist, and kept a journal for much of his working life. Carefully selected parts of this were published soon after his death, in the volumes edited by Sir Frederick Pollock, as mentioned above. A fuller edition of Macready’s diaries was edited by William Toynbee and published in 1912 by Chapman and Hall in two volumes - these too are available at Internet Archive, and are the source of the extracts below. A further edition of the diaries came out in 1967, edited by J. C. Trewin - The Journal of William Charles Macready, 1832-1851- and published by Longmans. Much of this book can be read at Googlebooks.

However, this most recent edition was based almost entirely on the earlier published diaries, since the original manuscripts were destroyed by Nevil Macready. His daughter, Mrs Lisa Puckle, is quoted in the Trewin edition as saying ‘I can speak definitively on this, as . . . my father destroyed the diaries, and I helped him in case they should fall into the wrong hands. My grandfather wrote very freely at times.’ Trewin’s edition does, though, benefit from the addition of 64 manuscript diary pages, written during Macready’s second tour to the US, that were discovered in 1960. ‘Despite its incompleteness,’ the ODNB concludes, ‘Macready’s diary constitutes a major resource, not only for the author’s life and career, but also for the theatrical and cultural world of his day’.

Macready’s diaries have already featured in The Diary Review, in an article to celebrate Dickens’ bicentenary. Here are several more extracts. The last and very long one below was written following Macready’s performance of Macbeth at the Astor Palace in New York on 10 May 1849. Wikipedia says this about the so-called Astor Place Riot. ‘The riot - which left at least 25 dead and more than 120 injured - marked the first time a state militia had been called out and had shot into a crowd of citizens, and it led to the creation of the first police force armed with deadly weapons, yet its genesis was a dispute between Edwin Forrest, one of the best-known American actors of that time, and William Charles Macready, a similarly notable English actor, which largely revolved around which of them was better than the other at acting the major roles of Shakespeare.’ For more on this see a New York Times review of the 1912 edition of Macready’s diaries.

2 January 1833
‘My performance this evening of Macbeth afforded me a striking evidence of the necessity there is for thinking over my characters previous to playing, and establishing, by practice if necessary, the particular modes of each scene and important passage. I acted with much energy, but could not (as I sometimes can, when holding the audience in wrapt attention) listen to my own voice, and feel the truth of its tones. It was crude, and uncertain, though spirited and earnest; but much thought is yet required to give an even energy and finished style to all the great scenes of the play, except perhaps the last, which is among the best things I am capable of. Knowles is ravished with his own acting, and the supposed support it has met with. I wish I was with mine.’

3 January 1833
‘Went home to breakfast. Spent an idle, but in all other respects a happy day. A well-spent day is pleasing while it lasts, and pleasant to remember when for ever gone; a day of mere pleasure is agreeable in its passage, but regret attends its close in the reflection that time which God has given for employment has been squandered, or lost in idleness. Compunction is injurious if unproductive of improvement; let my revision of this day enable me to be more resolute in my resistance of future temptations, and teach me for my own and my children’s good the necessity of blending activity with enjoyment. In my absence from home I am sometimes inclined to question the prudence of living so far from town; but when, on reaching home, I taste the fresh air of the country, look over its extent of prospect, feel in a manner the free range of thought and sense through the expanse of earth and sky surrounding me, I confess to myself, in the delightful sensations I experience, that such enjoyment is worth some sacrifice.

3 March 1833
‘I am forty years of age! Need I add one word to the solemn reproof conveyed in these, when I reflect on what I am, and what I have done? What has my life been? a betrayal of a great trust, an abuse of great abilities! This morning, as I began to dress, I almost started when it occurred to me that it was my birthday.

Last night I began reading parts of Faublas [by Jean-Baptiste Louvet de Couvrai], and, as is my custom with novels, sat up late and continued it in bed until half-past five this morning. I rose late, and was shocked and ashamed to think that I had wasted, or rather misused, so much precious time over such immoral, irrational and debasing stuff.’

18 January 1836
‘Went to rehearsal at eleven o’clock; was kept waiting for some time; found things in a decent state, but the Lady Macbeth bad beyond all former out-doings - detestable! Heard of Mr Woulds’ ill success, and his reflections upon the public from the stage in consequence! Mr Denvil, who was my Macduff with a pair of well-grown moustaches, told me of his having pitched Mr Elliot, a pantomimist, from a height of eighteen feet, in which the pitched Elliot gloried to that degree that he even suffered pain from the surmise that some of the audience might suppose it was a dummy that was thrown. Now, what is ambition in the pleasure its success conveys? Was the Duke of Wellington more inwardly gratified after a victory than this man would be if three or four rounds of applause were to follow him into the black hole into which Mr Denvil or any other person might pitch him? Gloria mundi! Proceeded to the theatre. The house was very fair, and I tried to act with the millstone of Lady Macbeth round my neck. Oh! - Muses! I acted Macbeth very unequally - some parts I thought I did very well; the scene before the banquet and the melancholy of the fifth act particularly. I should, however, say that it was not sustained.’

19 January 1836
‘Acted Hamlet. Oh, how unlike my London performances! The best thing in the play was the grave scene; I played it well, the rest was effort and not good. Still worse, I was morose and ill-tempered. Fie! fie! shall I never outlive my folly and my vice? I fear not.’

2 December 1836
‘Acted Othello with earnestness and spirit, but occasionally weak as to physical power; very much applauded, and in possession of the audience; heard that Mrs Butler was in the theatre before the fifth act, and from a feeling of pique which I cannot altogether account for, except that I thought her an impostor in the art, took particular pains with the last scene, and played it very powerfully; was much applauded, and heard a call begun for me as I left the stage. The prompter came to my room for me, but when I reached the stage I heard that Mr Kemble (!) had gone on; this was too good, so I observed that they would no doubt be quiet, and returned. This was either a most extraordinary freak in the audience, or a most consummate piece of Jesuitical impertinence in him - to make something of himself before his daughter. I was not very pleased, but showed no feeling about it.’

11 July 1842
‘Went in a gig to Brighton; the morning made the drive over the downs, through Seaford and Newhaven, very pleasant. Where is beauty wanting in this world, if we do but choose to see it? Waited an hour and a quarter for the railway train at Brighton, reading Philip Van Artevelde, the first part of which I finished before I reached London. Went over to the Bank and received my dividends, from which the Income Tax was deducted. Bear on, ye free people, enslaved to the worst cant that ever stultified mankind.’

24 July 1845
‘Went to Brighton by railroad; saw that disgusting person, Mr ___, a disgusting member of a disgusting family - one who belongs to “the order” of “noble by convention”; pah! Read on my whole journey to Eastbourne Carlyle’s Life of Schiller - some contrast both in the character of the biographer and of the subject of his description to these elegant specimens of the man-made aristocracy. Delighted with the book - excited by the author and deeply interested in the character and fate of Schiller. Came on in a fly to Eastbourne.’

10 May 1849
‘I went, gaily, I may say, to the theatre, and on my way, looking down Astor Place, saw one of the Harlem cars on the railroad stop and discharge a full load of policemen; there seemed to be others at the door of the theatre. I observed to myself, “This is good precaution.” I went to my dressing-room, and proceeded with the evening’s business. The hairdresser was very late and my equanimity was disturbed. I was ruffled and nervous from fear of being late, but soon composed myself. The managers were delaying the beginning, and I was unwilling to be behind the exact hour.

The play began; there was some applause to Mr Clarke (I write of what I could hear in my room below). I was called, and at my cue went on with full assurance, confidence, and cheerfulness. My reception was very enthusiastic, but I soon discovered that there was opposition, though less numerously manned than on Monday. I went right on when I found that it would not instantly be quelled, looking at the wretched creatures in the parquette, who shook their fists violently at me, and called out to me in savage fury. I laughed at them, pointing them out with my truncheon to the police, who, I feared, were about to repeat the inertness of the previous evening. A black board with white letters was leaned against the side of the proscenium: “The friends of order will remain silent.” This had some effect in making the rioters more conspicuous.

My first, second, third scenes passed over rapidly and unheard; at the end of the fourth one of the officers gave a signal, the police rushed in at the two sides of the parquette, closed in upon the scoundrels occupying the centre seats and furiously vociferating and gesticulating, and seemed to lift them or bundle them in a body out of the centre of the house, amid the cheers of the audience. I was in the act of making my exit with Lady Macbeth, and stopped to witness this clever manoeuvre, which, like a coup de main, swept the place clear at once. As well as I can remember the bombardment outside now began. Stones were hurled against the windows in Eighth Street, smashing many; the work of destruction became then more systematic; the volleys of stones flew without intermission, battering and smashing all before them; the Gallery and Upper Gallery still kept up the din within, aided by the crashing of glass and boarding without.

The second act passed, the noise and violence without increasing, the contest within becoming feebler. Mr Povey, as I was going to my raised seat in the banquet scene, came up to me and, in an undertone and much frightened, urged me to cut out some part of the play and bring it to a close. I turned round upon him very sharply, and said that “I had consented to do this thing - to place myself here, and whatever the consequence I must go through with it - it must be done; that I could not cut out. The audience had paid for so much, and the law compelled me to give it; they would have cause for riot if all were not properly done.” I was angry, and spoke very sharply to the above effect. The banquet scene was partially heard and applauded. I went down to change my dress, the battering at the building, doors, and windows growing, like the fiends at the Old Woman of Berkely’s burial, louder and louder. Water was running down fast from the ceiling to the floor of my room and making a pool there. I inquired; the stones hurled in had broken some of the pipes.

The fourth act passed; louder and more fierce waxed the furious noises against the building and from without; for whenever a missile did effectual mischief in its discharge it was hailed with shouts outside; stones came in through the windows, and one struck the chandelier; the audience removed for protection behind the walls; the house was considerably thinned, gaps of unoccupied seats appearing in the audience part. The fifth act was heard, and in the very spirit of resistance I flung my whole soul into every word I uttered, acting my very best and exciting the audience to a sympathy even with the glowing words of fiction, whilst these dreadful deeds of real crime and outrage were roaring at intervals in our ears and rising to madness all round us. The death of Macbeth was loudly cheered, and on being lifted up and told that I was called, I went on, and, with action earnestly and most emphatically expressive of my sympathy with them and my feelings of gratefulness to them, I quitted the New York stage amid the acclamations of those before me.

Going to my room I began without loss of time to undress, but with no feeling of fear or apprehension. When washed and half dressed, persons came into my room - consternation on the faces of some; fear, anxiety, and distress on those of others. “The mob were getting stronger; why were not the military sent for?” “They were here.” “Where? Why did they not act?” “They were not here; they were drawn up in the Bowery.” “Of what use were they there?” Other arrivals. “The military had come upon the ground.” “Why did they not disperse the mob then?” These questions and answers, with many others, were passed to and fro among the persons round me whilst I was finishing my hasty toilet, I occasionally putting in a question or remark.

Suddenly we heard a volley of musketry: “Hark! what’s that?” I asked. “The soldiers have fired.” “My God!” I exclaimed. Another volley, and another! The question among those surrounding me [. . .] was, which way was I to go out? News came that several were killed; I was really insensible to the degree of danger in which I stood, and saw at once - there being no avoidance - there was nothing for it but to meet the worst with dignity, and so I stood prepared. They sent some one to reconnoitre, and urged the necessity of a change in my appearance. I was confident that people did not know my person, and repeated this belief. They overbore all objections, and took the drab surtout of the performer of Malcolm, he taking my black one; they insisted, too, that I must not wear my hat; I said, “Very well; lend me a cap.” Mr Sefton gave me his, which was cut all up the back to go upon my head. Thus equipped I went out, following Robert Emmett to the stage door; here we were stopped, not being allowed to pass.

The “friend” was to follow us as a sort of aide, but we soon lost him. We crossed the stage, descended into the orchestra, got over into the parquette, and passing into the centre passage went along with the thin stream of the audience moving out. We went right on, down the flight of stairs and out of the door into Eighth Street. All was clear in front - kept so by two cordons or lines of police at either end of the building stretched right across. We passed the line near Broadway, and went on threading the excited crowd, twice or three times muttering in Emmett’s ear, “You are walking too fast.” We crossed Broadway, still through a scattered crowd, and walked on along Clinton Place till we passed the street leading down to the New York Hotel. I then said, “Are you going to your own house?” “Yes.” We reached it, and having opened the door with a latch-key, closing it after us, he said, “You are safe here; no one will know anything about you; you shall have a bed in ten minutes or a quarter of an hour, and you may depend upon all in this house.”

I sat down in the drawing-room, talking of the facts about us, and wondering at myself and my condition, secretly preparing myself for the worst result, viz., falling into the hands of those sanguinary ruffians. A son of Emmett’s was there, Robert; in about a quarter of an hour Colden came in. Several men had been killed, how many not certainly known yet. “You must leave the city at once; you must not stay here!” It was then a consultation between these excellent friends, I putting in an occasional opinion objecting or suggesting upon the safest course to pursue. At length it was decided, and Robert was sent out to find Richard, another son, probably at the Racket Club, to put the plan in execution. He was met by Robert in the street, and both returned with additional reports; the crowd was still there, the excitement still active. Richard was sent to the livery stable to order a carriage and good pair of horses to be at Emmett’s door at four o’clock in the morning, “to take a doctor to some gentleman’s house near New Rochelle.” This was done and well done by him; Colden and Emmett went out to reconnoitre, and they had, as I learned from Emmett, gone to the New York hotel, at the door of which was still a knot of watchers, and to Emmett’s inquiries told him, if any threats were made, to allow a committee of the crowd to enter and search the house for me. Emmett returned with my own hat, one from the hotel, and I had got Colden’s coat. An omnibus drove furiously down the street, followed by a shouting crowd. We asked Richard, when he came in, what it was; he said, “Merely an omnibus,” but next morning he told me that he asked the men pursuing, “What was the matter?” and one answered, “Macready’s in that omnibus; they’ve killed twenty of us, and by G we’ll kill him!”

Well, all was settled; it was believed that twenty had perished. Robert went to bed to his wife. Emmett went upstairs to lie down, which I declined to do, and with Richard went down into the comfortable office below before a good fire and, by the help of a cigar, to count the slow hours till four o’clock. We talked and he dozed, and I listened to the sounds of the night, and thought of home, and what would be the anguish of hearts there if I fell in this brutal outbreak; but I resolved to do what was right and becoming. The clock struck four; we were on the move; Emmett came down; sent Richard to look after the carriage. All was still in the dawn of morning, but we waited some ten minutes - an age of suspense - the carriage arrived. I shook the hand of my preserver and friend - my heart responded to my parting prayer of “God bless him” - and stepping into the carriage, a covered phaeton, we turned up Fifth Avenue, and were on our way to safety. Thank God. During some of the time of waiting I had felt depressed and rather low, but I believe I showed no fear, and felt determined to do my duty, whatever it might be, acting or suffering. We met only market carts, butchers’ or gardeners’, and labourers going to their early work; the morning was clear and fresh, and the air was cooling to my forehead, hot and aching with want of sleep. The scenery through which we passed, crossing the Manhattan, giving views of the various inlets of the sound, diversified with gentlemen’s seats, at any other time would have excited an interest in me, now one’s thought or series of thoughts, with wanderings to home and my beloved ones, gave me no time for passing objects. I thought as we passed Harlem Station, it would never have done to have ventured there. Some of the places on the road were familiar to my recollection, having been known under happier circumstances.’

15 May 1849
‘Read the telegraphic verdict on the killed: “That the deceased persons came to their deaths by gun-shot wounds, the guns being fired by the military, by order of the civil authorities of New York and that the authorities were justified, under the existing circumstances, in ordering the military to fire upon the mob; and we further believe that if a larger number of policemen had been ordered out, the necessity of a resort to the use of the military might have been avoided.” ’