Wednesday, May 22, 2013

How storms rage ever

Today marks the bicentenary of Richard Wagner’s birth. One of the greatest of all composers, he lived a life of much movement and constant financial struggle to see his operas performed, all the while embroiled in several grand amours. He was not a natural diarist, but Cosima, who would become his second wife, encouraged him to keep a journal when they were apart so he could record his thoughts about her.

Wagner was born in Leipzig on 22 May 1813, ninth child of a police clerk who died six months later. His mother took up with Ludwig Geyer, an actor and playwright, and they moved to Dresden. He began learning the piano aged seven, but was drawn more towards theatre under Geyer’s influence. When Geyer died, Wagner was sent to board at an established choir school at the expense of Geyer’s brother. By 1827, the family had returned to Leipzig, where Wagner first heard several of Beethoven’s later symphonies. Wagner’s early piano sonatas and his first attempts at orchestral overtures are said to date from this period.

In the early 1830s, Wagner studied at the University of Leipzig, and in 1833, aged but 20, he was appointed choir master at the theatre in Würzburg. The same year he finished his first complete opera, Die Feen (The Fairies). Thereafter he flit through various appointments as musical director, in Magdeburg, Königsberg and Riga (Russian Empire), but kept getting into debt by staging his own works. His marriage to the actress Christine (Minna) Planer in 1836, though it lasted 30 years, was troubled from the beginning. From 1839, the couple lived in Paris where Wagner’s income depended on writing articles and staging other composers’ operas.

In 1842, Wagner’s first operatic success, Rienzi, brought him back to Dresden, where it was performed at the Court Theatre. He stayed for six years, during which time he composed Lohengrin; and he served as the Royal Saxon Court Conductor for a while. With the German revolution of 1848-1849, and, in particular, the May Uprising in Dresden, Wagner was implicated as a left-wing radical and forced to flee. He spent more than a decade in exile, first in Switzerland, then Venice and Paris. Love affairs left him further estranged from Minna, and debt troubles were never far away. During his time in Zurich, he published prose works such as The Artwork of the Future and Opera and Drama, he wrote Tristan und Isolde, and he began writing what would eventually become his famous Ring cycle of four operas, Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung).

Wagner returned to Germany in 1862, when the exile ban was lifted, and settled in Biebrich where he was visited by Minna for the last time. Efforts to produce Tristan und Isolde in Vienna failed, but, in 1864, when the young King Ludwig II succeeded to the throne of Bavaria, he brought Wagner to Munich and offered to pay for the staging of several of the composers operas. Tristan und Isolde finally premiered at the National Theatre in Munich in 1865, conducted by Hans von Bülow. Earlier that year his wife, Cosima, had given birth to a daughter, named Isolde, fathered by Wagner. The indiscreet affair scandalised Munich, and Wagner fell into such disfavour that Ludwig finally asked him to leave Munich. Nevertheless, Ludwig installed him at the Villa Tribschen, by Lake Lucerne, and there Wagner finished Die Meistersinger, and continued with the Ring cycle. Von Bülow eventually allowed Cosima a divorce after she had had two more children with Wagner. They married in 1870, and the year after moved together to Bayreuth.

Wagner’s ambitious plans to build a new opera house in Bayreuth were finally brought to fruition - after many financing delays - with the first festival in 1876, at which Wagner premiered the complete Ring cycle for the first time. It was to be another six years before he could put together a second festival, in 1882, and this one saw the premiere of Parsifal, Wagner’s final opera. He died the following year. For more biographical information see Wikipedia, Gramophone, Music Academy, or the comprehensive fan websites run by Vincent Vargas or Per-Erik Skramstad.

After Wagner had settled in Munich, in 1864, Cosima gave him a calf leather bound journal to write about his thoughts of her when they were separated, which, in the early years of their relationship, was often. He kept up the journal, somewhat intermittently, from 1865 until the year before his death, though after 1868 the couple were together permanently so Wagner wrote of other matters. It is worth noting that Cosima herself kept a diary which was largely meant to be a record of Wagner’s life - see The Diary Review: Music was sounding.

Wagner’s journal was scrupulously guarded after his death by Cosima on account of its confidential contents. However, in her 70th year she gave it into the care of her daughter, Eva, who later presented it to the town of Bayreuth. Its contents were only published fully for the first time in English in 1980 by Victor Gollancz as The Diary of Richard Wagner 1865-1882 - The Brown Book. The text was ‘presented and annotated’ by Joachim Bergfeld (and translated by George Bird).

10 August 1865 [Wagner went to stay in King Ludwig’s mountain hut on Hochkopf and was ill almost constantly.]
‘Late yesterday evening during the wearisome ascent, I was gazing - dog-tired - longingly upwards to discern at last the goal of our march, when, above the edge of the mountain, I caught sight of the first brightly twinkling star. Not bothering much about the direction, I took it for the evening star, and hailed it loudly - ‘Cosima’. That gave me heart. It was quite wonderful. The star got ever brighter - quite alone, no other star. It was completely dark by the time I go up there far ahead of all the men, with a big bunch of keys to open the lodge. Luckily I got the last one to fit, tried to find my way about in the dark, found the King’s sleeping place, and stretched out bathed in sweat, dog-tired. The men arrived. God, before Franz [manservant] produced a light! There was marvellous confusion. Now alone with Franz. Completely in the wilds. No water to be found. Where is there a spring? We hadn’t asked. Much groping about mountain and forest. In vain. Laborious changing of clothes - ah, what a muddle. Finally, bread, wine, sausage. But no water. So mineral water - brought for the cure - had to be unpacked. Arrival of good mood.’

18 August 1865
‘Sick and wretched. Bad cold: fever! Lonely here - Can’t so much as move. Franz lamenting. You know how quick I am to take the extreme view!

But I wanted to write at least one line in the book. It ought to help, complaining to you. Let’s see. Hope so - Ah, how wretched man is! - Even the sky is bleak.’

16 April 1867 [on being separated from Cosima, a separation that would last 15 months]
‘In my whole life I do not think I have ever been so sad as I am now!! - How easily that is said, and how unspeakable it is -

I walked home, and sank down from exhaustion. A brief, leaden sleep such as often drives out a cold fetched up all the misery of my life as if from the depths of my soul. I yearn for major illness and death. I have no inclination any more, no will!

Would there an end to it, an end!
Today she has left, - What this leaving has said!
What is the use of any seeing each other again?
The leaving remains. It is wretched!’

26 October 1865
‘Leafing through the Brown Book just now, I read a bit of Parzival. How that time lies once more like a sacred dream - once more like a lost paradise behind me - Oh Cosima! Will it ever come to my quietly completing my works and entering with you the promised land of peace? How storms rage ever and ever anew! I desire - so it seems - the most unnatural state of affairs which the world just will not accede to. My trouble is great. Always something new hounds and oppresses. From within and without.’

Monday, May 13, 2013

Philippine’s first prime minister

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Apolinario Mabini, a Philippine revolutionary, who wrote the country’s first constitution and served as its first prime minister, if only for a few months. While imprisoned by the Americans on Guam, he kept a diary, and this was later published with other material relating to the revolution.

Mabini was born in 1864 in Tanauan, some 60km south of Manila, into a large, poor family, his father being a market seller. He was taught by his mother and a grandfather, a local teacher, and then was taken on at a private school to work as a houseboy. In 1881, he received a scholarship to go to the Colegio de San Juan de Letran in Manila. He supported himself through teaching and working as a copyist, and excelled academically. He moved on to study law at the University of Santo Tomas, where he received his degree in 1894. In 1896, he suffered a severe attack of polio which left him paralysed.

For some years, an armed nationalist revolution against the Spanish colonists had been growing in strength, and, though Mabini had worked for reform rather than revolution, he accepted a summons to join the revolutionary leader General Emilio Aguinaldo. He soon became one of the general’s chief advisers. When the Spanish-American war broke out in 1898, Mabini urged cooperation with the US as a means to gain freedom from Spain. That same year, he drew up Asia’s first democratic constitution, based on the US constitution, for an independent republic; and, from January 1899, Aguinaldo was its first president, and Mabini its first prime minister. When the US decided, however, to annex the Philippines, Mabini joined Aguinaldo in a renewed struggle for independence.

Mabini was captured by US troops at the end of 1899, and then again a year or two later. He was exiled to Guam because he refused to swear allegiance to the US, and only returned home in 1903, a few months before his death. According to Wikipedia, he is often referred to in Philippine history texts as ‘the Sublime Paralytic’ or ‘the Brains of the Revolution’. Further information is also available from Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Philippine National Council on Disability Affairs, and the Philippine Masonry website.

While in Guam, Mabina kept a diary in the form of notes. This was published as Memoirs of Guam within (I think) the second volume of a larger work called The Philippine Revolution by Teodoro Manguiat Kalaw (Manila Book Co., 1925). Some of the diary entries - which date from January 1901 to September 1902 - have been made available online thanks to the excellent Philippine Diary Project, which (like The Diary Review) has just celebrated its fifth birthday. (Back in 2009, a Diary Review article about the assassination of Aurora Quezon, wife of the president, drew on the Philippine Diary Project’s fund of diary texts - see Aurora Quezon’s bomb fuse.)

Here then, with thanks again to the Philippine Diary Project, are several extracts from Mabina’s diary.

31 December 1901
‘This month predicts a sad future for the prisoners in the prison house.

Ever since we arrved in the island, we have been fed with canned goods and it was very seldom that we were given fresh meat during the time of Commander Orwig. We had canned meat, canned salmon and bacon, potatoes, etc. Although in the last few days we were already satiated, we did not mind it too much since we were still able to buy from the Commissary sardines, shrimps in cans, ham and other things.

During the time of Captain Shaw, who manifested great concern for us, we were served salmon and given a supply of fresh meat twice a week. Besides, during this time, we could ask either though the guy with a shaven head or through our cook who also had a shaven head to buy for us vegetables, chicken and other goods.

Shaw finally left and Captain McKelvy assumed command. This time, we no longer had potatoes but beans; we could not buy from the Commissary other than cigarettes and they stopped giving us fresh meat. Besides, our head-shaven cook had left and was replaced by Agramon, another companion of ours, who was paid a salary of 30 pesos; however, we were still able to ask the milkman and the servants of those who transferred to Agaña, and who came to visit us often, to do this favor for us, since they were allowed to ride in a car-ambulance that plies through Agaña and Piti (round trip) three times a day.

Then the prisoners ran out of money and the milkman stopped coming, because only a few were able to buy milk. Later, our companions’ servants in Agaña were prohibited from riding in the ambulance, which was solely intended for the Americans and the government service. First we appealed to Captain McKelvy and then to Mr. Pressey, Judge of the Court of First Instance and Assistant to the Governor, that we be supplied fresh meat, as it used to be during the time of Captain Shaw. They promised to do so, but this was never fulfilled.

Lastly, at the start of this month, the prisoners could no longer eat canned meat, no matter how they forced themselves, because they felt nauseated and wanted to vomit. I found out later that the cook, in agreement with the prisoners, did not want to get the ration of canned meat from the Commissary, which supply was to last for ten days. Thinking Captain McKelvy would be offended, I talked to Mr. Llanero, who, being the President, represented the prisoners, so that he could write the captain telling him that the canned goods have not been claimed and that he was advising him about this so that the goods would not be wasted, since the prisoners would not take them.

Captain McKelvy got mad, saying that the prisoners have no right to refuse what is given them; nevertheless, he gave us a supply of fresh meat for a period of three weeks. Then, the cook was ordered to receive the usual supply of canned meat, and we were forbidden to ask the head-shaven guys to buy for us anything, since the Commissary takes care of buying what we need. Our companions ordered the purchase of twenty pounds of meat. It cost them a lot of money but the meat already smelled rotten when delivered to them. On the other hand, those who wish to live in Agaña were not granted a permit. We spent Christmas of 1901 with these painful thoughts. This is not surprising to me, because we were brought here precisely to make us suffer. Much as I am willing to suffer everything, I’m afraid my sick and weak body cannot withstand a prolonged self-deprivation. Be that as it may, I am convinced I will die all by myself, when my country shall no longer need my services.

Mr. Pressey invited me twice to live in Agaña, saying I must not worry about the money, since I would have enough. I have refused these offers, thinking it improper to leave our companions during these critical times.

Besides, I must add that in the past few days, when our companions had just transferred to Agaña, several times the community received from them gifts in kind, such as meat, fish and other things. I remember Mr. Dimayuga in particular, who has often sent me meat and vegetables, etc.

Lastly, I remember Captains Shaw and McKelvy, who took the trouble of teaching us (me and some companions) English, whenever their work allowed them to. Some weeks ago, I had given up studying the language, on account of my poor nourishment, which has deprived me of my high spirits, thinking it would be futile to continue, if, in the end I should die here or return to the Philippines, very sick and incapable of doing something good.

Goodbye to you, 1901! You are leaving us with a sad memory, yet a painful mark in my heart. I welcome you, 1902! Let this year be less severe, not with me anymore, but with my companions and friends.’

30 August 1902
‘I have been notified by the Captain about a letter from the Governor, saying that the latter had no authority to send us to Manila, without having taken our oath. He says he must transmit my wishes to the Commander General of the Philippine Division through the next ship and most likely, the response will be received here by the end of December. If the reply is favorable, we could embark in January. Be patient, this could be “a blessing in disguise” as the saying goes. It is worth knowing that a proclamation of the President of the United States, endorsed by the branch Secretary, cannot be interpreted nor implemented to the letter.

21 September 1902
‘At about nine o’clock this morning, all my companions in exile boarded the ship Warren from San Francisco to Manila. It was a sad farewell and there were many who wept. We all wished them a happy trip and we hoped everyone would find the happiness that their hearts were longing for. Only Mr. Ricarte, Aquilino Randeza, my brother and I remained.’

23 September 1902
‘Yesterday, at past eleven in the morning, there was a very strong earthquake, the strongest and longest that I have felt in my life. This was followed by others of lesser intensity, occurring at intervals of 15 to 20 until this morning.

They say the tremor destroyed the following:

The two stone houses of the Filipino proprietor, Don Eulogio de la Cruz, which were completely destroyed; the house occupied by Messrs. Gerona and Dimayuga; another one occupied by Messrs. Trías and Simón Tecson; the new civil hospital; two stone houses occupied by the club; and the tribunal-house presently occupied by the Court.

Also destroyed were a portion of the house occupied by the owner, Mr. Dungca; the walls of the stone house which served as a government-house; the house of the Fiscal (roofing and the garden fence); the big college and the public school which had cracks; one side of the house that was occupied by Don Pablo Ocampo and Mauricio; the roofing and walls of the convent; and the tower which was split from top to bottom.

It is said that of the total houses in the whole town, only three or four remain habitable.

Big holes were formed in front of the Protestant church and in various areas. A long crack on the ground, starting from the sea cuts through the different parts of the town. Water gushed forth from some of these holes, inundating a street. Fortunately, there were no personal casualties.’

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Diary Review’s fifth birthday

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the launch of The Diary Review. During its five years, the column has included extracts from the diaries of over 450 diarists. The Diary Review and The Diary Junction together can claim to provide the internet’s most extensive and comprehensive online resource for information about, and links to, diary texts. Here listed are all the diarists that have been written about in The Diary Review. Copy any name into the Blogger search box (above) to access the article(s). All the articles are also tagged with keywords (below right) by century, country, and subject matter.

The Diary Review diarists: May 2008 - April 2013 (most recent first)

John Addington Symonds; Henry James; Edwina Currie; Alan Clark; Tony Benn; Idris Davies; William Henry Jackson; Adam Winthrop; Noël Coward; Richard Hurrell Froude; Deborah Bull; Joseph Warren Stilwell; King Edward VII; William Cobbett; John Evelyn Denison; William Macready; Michel de Montaigne; Joseph Goebbels; George Barker; Anais Nin; Thomas Crosfield; Alec Guinness; Amrita Sher-Gil; Gordon of Khartoum; Hugh Gaitskell; Swami Vivekananda; Albert Jacka; Joe Orton; William Bray; Anthony Wood; William Cole; Henry Greville; Louisa Alcott; Dang Thuy Tram; John Rabe; John Manningham; Mary Berry; Edmund Franklin Ely; Sergei Prokofiev; Guy Liddell; Richard Burton; Marina Tsvetaeva; Rutherford B Hayes; John Thomlinson; Elizabeth Simcoe; August Gottlieb Spangenberg; George Croghan; William Booth; Iris Origo; George H Johnston; Dawn Powell; Arthur Hamilton Baynes; Roger Twysden; William Cory; William Grant Stairs; Celia Fiennes; Edmond de Goncourt; August Strindberg; Edward Lear; Charles Abbot; May Sarton; Ralph Waldo Emerson; A C Benson; George Cockburn; George William Frederick Howard; Frederick Hamilton; Clifford Crease; Father Patrick McKenna; Robert Musil; Michael Spicer; Chris Parry; Rick Jolly; Tony Groom; Neil Randall; Peter Green; Samuel Sewall; Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; Isabella Augusta Persse Gregory; Mochtar Lubis; Alice James; John Byrom; Lawrence Durrell; Thomas Moore; Beatrice Webb; Alexander Hamilton Stephens; William Charles Macready; Charles Dickens; John Baker; William Swabey; Derek Jarman; Edith Wharton; Henri Jozef Machiel Nouwen; William Tayler; Robert Boyle; Roald Amundsen; Henry L Stimson; Victor Andrew Bourasaw; Robert W Brockway; Louis P. Davis; Robert Hailey; Sydney Moseley; Rodney Foster; Xu Zhimo; Mikhail Vasilyevich Lomonosov ; David Livingstone; Christopher Columbus; George Whitwell Parsons; Arthur Schnitzler; Thomas Edison; Nathaniel Dance Holland; Frederic Remington; Lady Mary Coke; Henri-Frédéric Amiel; Engelbert Kaempfer; Henry Melchior Muhlenberg; Walter Scott; Alan Lascelles; Lord Longford; Thomas Isham; Hiram Bingham; Earl of Shaftesbury; Hannah Senesh; Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville; Allan Cunningham; Thomas Asline Ward; Robert Lindsay Mackay; Elizabeth Barrett Browning; Queen Mary; King George V; John Reith; Philip Toynbee; Robert Wyse; Tappan Adney; Brigham Young; Gideon Mantell; Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz; Alfred Domett; Alfred Kazin; Joseph Hunter; George Jackson; Prince Albert; 7th Earl of Shaftesbury; William Dyott; Ford Madox Brown; William Brereton; Adam Eyre ; Aubrey Herbert; Anne Chalmers; Walter Powell; Ron Hubbard; Taras Shevchenko; Xu Xiake; Cecil Harmsworth King; Henry Martyn; Countess of Ranfurly; Anne Morrow Lindbergh; Charles Crowe; Mary Shelley; Hester Thrale; Queen Victoria; Eliza Frances Andrews; Ananda Ranga Pillai; Abraham de la Pryme; Henry Fynes Clinton; Jane Carlyle; Jacob Bee; Paul Bowles; José Lezama Lima; Stendhal; Ludwig van Beethoven; Benjamin Constant; Charlotte Bury; Hugh Prather; Leo Tolstoy; Eric Gill; Ernst Jünger; Thomas Cairns Livingstone; George Bernard Shaw; King Chulalongkorn; Julia Ward Howe; Richard Boyle; Charles Ash Windham; Elizabeth Gaskell; Étienne Jacques Joseph Macdonald; Leonard J Arrington; Takehiko Fukunaga; Porfirio Díaz; William Holman Hunt; John Hutton Bisdee; Mother Teresa; Graham Young; Wilfrid Scawen Blunt; Florence Nightingale; Elizabeth Percy; Luca Landucci; Timothy Burrell; William Lyon Mackenzie King; William Byrd; Marius Petipa; Conrad Weiser; Lester Frank Ward ; Minnie Vautrin; Tsen Shui-Fang; Katherine Mansfied; Peter Pears; Richard Pococke; Axel von Fersen; Gonzalo Torrente Ballester; Li Peng; Robert Schumann; Chantal Akerman; William Windham; Anne Lister; Alan Brooke; Guy Liddell; Hugh Casson; Jules Renard; Alastair Campbell; Fridtjof Nansen; Ricci the sinologist; Matteo Ricci; John Carrington; Gustave Flaubert; Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky; Anne Frank; Virginia Woolf; Marie Louise of Austria; Dorothy Wordsworth; Antera Duke; Edward Hodge; Jeffrey Archer; Vaslav Nijinsky ; John Poindexter ; Cosima Liszt Wagner; Lady Cynthia Asquith; Thomas Clarkson; William Marjouram; Roland Barthes; Franklin Pierce Adams; Murasaki Shikibu; Caroline Herschel; Mikhail Bulgakov; Han Feng; William Griffith; Casanova; Victor Klemperer; Nelson Mandela; Josef Mengele; Ted Koppel; Henriette Desaulles; Ole Bull; Anton Chekhov; Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen; Cecil Beaton; Douglas Hyde; Donald Friend; Barbara Pym; Antonia Fraser; Fanny Burney; Jack Lovelock; Richard Newdigate; Albert Camus; William Gladstone; Thomas Babington Macaulay; Chet Baker; Paul Klee; Henry Edward Fox; Peter Scott; David Hamilton; Chiang Kai-shek; Washington Irving; Fanny Kemble; André Gide; Edwin Hubble; Tomaž Humar; William Howard Russell; Pehr Kalm; Gareth Jones; Anatoly Chernyaev; Leon Trotsky; Bernard Berenson; Benjamin Britten; Jacob Abbott; Otto Rank; Gurdjieff; Itō Hirobumi; George B McClellan; Jack Kerouac; Benjamin Roth; Lee Harvey Oswald; Roger Boyle; Meriwether Lewis; Abel Janszoon Tasman; Alfred Dreyfus; Alfred Deakin; John Narbrough; Gandhi; Arnold Bennett; Jim Carroll; Mahmoud Darwish; George Rose; Maria Nugent; James Fenimore Cooper; Henry Hudson; Kim Dae-jung; Georges Simenon; Henry Peerless; Drew Pearson; Earl Mountbatten of Burma; William Wilberforce; Alfred A Cunningham; Rosa Bonheur; Hana Pravda; Isaac Albéniz; Marie Curie; Dr Alessandro Ricci; John Skinner; General Patrick Gordon; Alexander von Humboldt; Charlotte Grimké; Christian Gottlieb Ferdinand Ritter von Hochstetter; General Hilmi Özkök; George Eliot; Aurora Quezon; Ludwig Wittgenstein; Stafford Cripps; Edward Bates; Alexis de Tocqueville; Elizabeth Lee; John Steinbeck; Harvey Cushing; Robert E Peary; John Rae; Dwight Eisenhower; Thomas Mann; A E Housman; Joseph Liouville; Lady Anne Clifford; Harold Nicolson; Neville Chamberlain; Edward Abbey; John Lennon; Georg Wilhelm Steller; Derk Bodde; Joe DiMaggio; Raoul Wallenberg; Leonard Woolf; Howard Carter; Stephen Spender; Chris Mullin; August Derleth; Olave Baden-Powell; William H. Seward; Charles Darwin; John Ruskin; Felix Mendelssohn; Alexander Selkirk; Ken Wilber; Jacob Roggeveen; Christopher Hibbert; Breckinridge Long; Sir George Rooke; Jeremiah Dixon; David Garrick; Sir John Moore; Abraham Plotkin; Steve Carano; William Keeling; Naomi Mitchison; Susan Sontag; Hanazono; Emily Brontë; Mary Leadbeater; Pope John XXIII; Robert Coverte; George Monck; Johann August Sutter; Sir George Hubert Wilkins; Christopher Isherwood; Charles Everett Ellis; Edmund Harrold; Selma Lagerlöf; Elizabeth George Speare; Georgy Feodosevich Voronoy; Edith Roller; Henry Machyn; Jedediah Hubbell Dorwin; Piseth Pilika; Marie Bashkirtseff; Jacques Piccard; Herculine Barbin; Catherine Deneuve; George Washington; Hélène Berr; Humphrey Lyttelton; Ted Hughes; Sylvia Plath; Charles XIII; Arthur Jephson; Harry Allen; Yves Bertrand; Sean Lester; Douglas Mawson; Thomas Turner; Henry Chips Channon; John Blow; Robert Louis Stevenson; Abel J Herzberg; Elizabeth Fremantle; August Möbius; John Churton Collins; Krste Misirkov; Mika Waltari; Bernard Donoughue; William Bray; Cesare Pavese; John Home; Samuel Pepys; Edward Walter Hamilton; Bernard Leach; Max Brod; Che Guevara; Lorenzo Whiting Blood; Harriet Stewart Judd; Angelina Jolie; Robert Dickinson; John Longe; George H W Bush; Jikaku Daishi; Choe Bu; Arthur Munby; Hanna Cullwick; Mary Blathwayt; Alexander MacCallum Scott; Walt Whitman; Helena Morley; Carolina Maria de Jesus; Alice Dayrell Caldeira Brant; Rachel Corrie; Lady Nijo; Paul Coelho; Sir Henry Slingsby; Edgar Vernon Christian; Dorothy Day; Mary Boykin Chesnut; Lord Hailsham; Nia Wyn; Rutka Laskier; Tom Bradley; Richard Pearson; Barbellion; Pekka-Eric Auvinen; Chester Gillette; James Giordonello; Simon Gray; Harry Telford; Özden Örnek; Anna Politkovskaya; Serge Prokofiev; Rasputin

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Mock and real turtles

‘The difference between an author who picks up his material everywhere but does not work it up into an organic whole and one who does that is, it seems to me, like the difference between mock turtle and real turtle.’ This is 21 year old Søren Kierkegaard writing in the journal that he would keep for all of his short life. Today is a good day for remembering him - Denmark’s most important philosopher, dubbed by some as the father of existentialism - for it is the bicentenary of his birth.

Kierkegaard was born in Copenhagen on 5 May 1813, the youngest of several children. His father had grown up poor in Jutland, but moved to the capital city and made his fortune. Søren spent ten years studying theology at Copenhagen University and eventually graduated in 1840 two years after his father died, leaving him rich enough not to work. Biographers consider this period to have been most important for his spiritual development. In September 1840, Kierkegaard became engaged to Regine Olsen, who was only 17 at the time. Regretting his action, and thinking he had done wrong, he withdrew from the engagement and went to Berlin for six months. Regine married happily, but Kierkegaard never forgot her and later dedicated the whole of his literary oeuvre to her.

On returning from Berlin, Kierkegaard published Either/Or under a pseudonym, which presented, for the first time, his basic ideas on existential philosophy. Later, he published important critiques of Hegel and of the German Romantics. Having undergone something of a spiritual crisis, he focused, during his final years, on attacking complacency within the Church of Denmark through newspaper articles in Fædrelandet (The Fatherland) and self-published pamphlets under the title, Øjeblikket (The Moment or The Instant). In autumn 1855, he collapsed on the street and died within a few weeks - aged only 42.

The website of the Christian Classics Ethereal Society summarises his influence as follows: ‘Kierkegaard’s resistance to creating an all-embracing system of thought has resulted in a rich variety of influence on twentieth century philosophy and literature. Jaspers, Heidegger and Sartre were all heavily influenced by his work, and existentialism owes much to Kierkegaard’s thought, drawing on his analysis of freedom and angst. Although he didn’t write much overtly political work, Marxists like Marcuse and Lukacs have shown interest in Kierkegaard’s writings. He has also influenced theological studies, especially the work of Karl Barth, and he is admired for his literary innovations.’ Further information on Kierkegaard is also available from Wikipedia, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, or D Anthony Storm’s Kierkekaard website.

Throughout Kierkegaard’s adult life he kept a diary, more full of philosophical and religious musings, and of thoughts on his literary projects than descriptions of his daily life. There are over 7,000 diary pages, all of which have been edited and published in Danish in many volumes. A selection of extracts chosen and translated into English by Alexander Dru was published by Oxford University Press in 1938. A fuller version - though still not the complete journal - was edited and translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong for publication by Indiana University Press from 1967. Meanwhile, the Søren Kierkegaard Research Centre Foundation in Copenhagen is working on a definitive edition of all Kierkegaard’s writings, including the journal, which will then be translated into several languages. A summary of the journal’s contents, analysis and many extracts can be found online at Storm’s website
; and Natural Thinker has even more.

 11 September 1834
‘The reason I cannot really say that I positively enjoy nature is that I do not quite realize what it is that I enjoy. A work of art, on the other hand, I can grasp. I can - if I may put it this way - find that Archimedian point, and as soon as I have found it, everything is readily clear for me. Then I am able to pursue this one main idea and see how all the details serve to illuminate it. I see the author’s whole individuality as if it were the sea, in which every single detail is reflected. The author’s spirit is kindred to me; he is very probably far superior to me, I am sure, but yet he is limited as I am. The works of the deity are too great for me; I always get lost in the details. This is the reason, too, why people’s exclamations on observing nature: It’s lovely, tremendous, etc. - are so frivolous. They are all too anthropomorphic; they come to a stop with the external; they are unable to express inwardness, depth. In this connection, also, it seems most remarkable to me that the great geniuses among the poets (such as Ossian and Homer) are represented as blind. Of course, it makes no difference to me whether they actually were blind or not. I only make a point of the fact that people have imagined them to be blind, for this would seem to indicate that what they saw when they sang the beauty of nature was not seen with the external eye but was revealed to their inward intuition. How remarkable that one of the best, yes, the very best writer about bees was blind from early youth. It seems to indicate that however much one believes in the importance of the observation of externals, he had found that [Archimedian] point and now by a purely spiritual activity had deduced from this all the details and had reconstructed them analogously to nature.’

12 September 1834
‘I am amazed that (as far as I know) no one has ever treated the idea of a “master-thief,” an idea that certainly would lend itself very well to dramatic treatment. We cannot help noting that almost every country has had the idea of such a thief, that an ideal of a thief has hovered before all of them; and we also see that however different Fra Diavolo may be from Peer Mikkelsen or Morten Frederiksen, they still have certain features in common. Thus many of the stories circulating about thieves are attributed by some to Peer Mikkelsen, by others to Morten Frederiksen, by others to someone else, etc., although it is impossible to decide definitely to which of them they really belong. This shows that men have imagined a certain ideal of a thief with some broad general features which have then been attributed to this or that actual thief. We must especially bear in mind that wickedness, a propensity for stealing, etc. were not considered to be the one and only core of the idea. On the contrary, the master-thief has also been thought of as one endowed with natural goodness, kindness, charitableness, together with extraordinary bearing, cunning, ingenuity, one who really does not steal just to steal, that is, in order to get hold of another person’s possessions, but for some other reason. Frequently we may think of him as someone who is displeased with the established order and who now expresses his grievance by violating the rights of others, seeking thereby an occasion to mystify and affront the authorities. In this respect it is noteworthy that he is thought of as stealing from the rich to help the poor (as is told of Peer Mikkelsen), which does indeed indicate magnanimity, and that he never steals for his own advantage. In addition, we could very well imagine him to have a warm affection for the opposite sex, for example Forster (Feuerbach, part II), something that on the one hand indicates a bright spot in his character and on the other gives him and his life a romantic quality which is required in order to distinguish him from the simple thief - whether he steals in order to provide, if possible, a better future in his beloved’s arms (like Forster) or whether in his activity as a thief he is conscious of being an opponent of the established order or an avenger against the authorities of some injustice perhaps committed by them against him. His girl walks by his side like a guardian angel and helps him in his troubles while the authorities are in pursuit to capture him, and the populace, on the other hand, regards him suspiciously as one who is, after all, a thief, although perhaps an inner voice sometimes speaks in his defense, and at the same time he finds no encouragement and comfort among the other thieves since they are far inferior to him and are dominated by viciousness. The only possible association he can have with them is solely for the purpose of using them to achieve his aims; otherwise he must despise them.’

22 November 1834
‘The difference between an author who picks up his material everywhere but does not work it up into an organic whole and one who does that is, it seems to me, like the difference between mock turtle and real turtle. The meat from some parts of the real turtle tastes like veal, from other parts like chicken, but it is all together in one organism. All these various kinds of meat are found in mock turtle, but that which binds the separate parts is a sauce, which still is often more nourishing than the jargon which takes its place in a lot of writing.’