Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Nooteboom in Berlin 1963

Happy Birthday Cees Nooteboom, eighty today. A noted Dutch novelist, Nooteboom has won various awards, not least the prestigious Prijs der Nederlandse Letteren, but is equally well known for his travel journalism. Recently, a translation into English of his writing about Berlin has been published in English, and this contains several diary entries about his first experiences of the Berlin Wall in 1963. They are so readable and interesting that one hopes Nooteboom has a stash of diaries to be published one day.

Cornelis (Cees) Nooteboom was born on 31 July 1933 in The Hague, Netherlands, the middle child of three. His parents separated, then his father died as a result of a bombing in 1945. After the war, Nooteboom’s mother took the family to live in Tilburg, and she remarried. Nooteboom was educated largely at religious schools. He made use of some early experiences hitchhiking around Europe for his first novel, Philip en de anderen (Philip and the Others), which, subsequently, became a classic of Dutch literature. After various clerical jobs, he found work as a journalist, with the weekly magazine Elsevier, then with the newspaper de Volkskrant, and then, in 1967, he became travel editor of the magazine Avenue. Meanwhile, he also published further novels and books of poetry.

In 1980, Nooteboom published Rituelen (Rituals) which was later made into a film. This book, Nooteboom himself says, marked the beginning of the second phase in his career as a writer, in which he produced many more poems, novels, novellas and anthologies of pieces on travel and art. In 1987, he taught for six months at the University of California at Berkeley, and in 1989 the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) invited him to live for a year in Berlin, from where he witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall, and wrote about it for many European newspapers. In 1991, his novel Het volgende verhaal (The Following Story) was given away free for Dutch Book Week.

Nooteboom has lived in Amsterdam since 1954. He married Fanny Lichtveld in 1957, but the marriage was annulled in 1964. For some years he was in a relationship with the singer, Liesbeth List, but is now married to Simone Sassen, and they divide their time between Amsterdam and Minorca. In 2009, Nooteboom was awarded the Prijs der Nederlandse Letteren, the most important literary award in the Dutch-speaking world. Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia or Nooteboom’s own website.

I do not know if Nooteboom keeps a diary or not - I hope so - but one of his recent books translated into English - Roads to Berlin - contains a few early diary entries. His first Dutch book on Berlin - Berlijnse Notities - was published in 1990 and a second book - Terugkeer naar Berlijn - in 1997. Texts from both these books were collected with new material for a more recent publication, Berlijn 1989/2009. This has now been translated by Laura Watkinson, and published in English by Maclehose Press, London (2012) as Roads to Berlin.

The Maclehose Press website quotes a few reviews: ‘It is a wonderful voyage of self-discovery, and a psychological exploration of a nation in turmoil’ in the Financial Times; ‘Nooteboom wears his erudition lightly, and weaves personal anecdote into memorable reportage’ in The Sunday Telegraph; ‘there is a melancholy in his writing and a nostalgia for the past, both of which are very German - or at least used to be’ in The Spectator; and ‘his Berlin reportage, from a 1963 Khrushchev rally in East Berlin to the tearing down of the Palast der Republik, brilliantly captures the intensity of the capital and its associated layers of memory,’ in The Economist.

Several pages of the Kindle edition (by Quercus) can be read freely online at Amazon. Here is one diary extract to be found in the Prologue.

15 January 1963
‘West Berlin. You drive down Kurfürstendamm, which is bedecked with high, white lights, to the corroded, mutilated Gedächtniskirche, and then onwards. To your surprise, you see that the West has its own ruins: magnificent, hollowed-out monuments and empty windows with no rooms behind them, chunks of fossilised war, bricked-up doors that no smiling father will ever pass through again, off for a walk with Werner the dog. The only crossing point for non-German, non-military personnel is in Friedrichstraße, but we end up at the Brandenburger Tor by mistake. Snow and moonlight. Nothing on the frozen square in front of the gate: no people, no cars. Along the edge of that space, the black columns topped by the quadriga, the triumphal chariot. Four horses race along, pulling a winged figure that holds aloft a wreath, towards the east. Beneath, a quarter of the height of the columns, the blunt teeth of the Wall. A West German policeman signals that we are not allowed to drive on. So we stay where we are and watch things not happening. Two Russian tanks stand up high on huge pedestals, a reminder of 1945. We see two Russian sentries, shadows amidst the marble.

Friedrichstraße is not far from here. The same checks as at Helmstedt: documents, pieces of paper, money being counted, barriers, a classic copperplate engraving through which we move, remaining as human as possible. Two low walls have been erected across the road so that a driver would have to perform a dramatic swerve if he wanted to get through quickly. When all the German boxes have been ticked, we are allowed through, and the city continues, the way cities do after walls: the same, yet different. It is probably just me being oversensitive, but it smells different here, and everything looks browner. [. . .]

Not much traffic. Lots of neon signs. Is it a disappointment? Would I have liked it to be more dramatic? And why do I think I have any right to expect something? Two motionless soldiers stand guard in front of a monument. At Alexanderplatz, a steam train passes over a viaduct, but otherwise there is nothing to report - the occasional sign with words that look rather unread, slogans talking to themselves.’

Friday, July 19, 2013

Descended from a bishop

Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Winchester and a force for Anglo-Catholocism in the mid-19th century, died 140 years ago today. His detailed diary underpins a three-part biography partly written by his son Reginald, though, unfortunately, it says nothing about his criticism of Darwin for which he is much remembered. Reginald, however, does include an anecdote about his father speaking at a British Association debate on Darwin: when he made a comment about monkeys in a zoo having no connection with his ancestors, a learned professor responded: ‘I would rather be descended from an ape than a bishop.’

Wilberforce was born in Clapham, London, the third son of William Wilberforce (also a diarist, see - God’s work against slavery). He studied mathematics and classics at Oriel College, Oxford, where he became associated with the Oxford Movement. In 1828 he married Emily Sargent, and they had five children that survived infancy, but then Emily herself died young, in 1841. The year of his marriage he was ordained and appointed curate-in-charge at Checkenden near Henley-on-Thames. Two years later he took over as rector of Brighstone, Isle of Wight.

Wilberforce published hymns and sermons as well as stories and tracts on social subjects. In the second half of the 1830s, he edited the letters and journals of Henry Martyn (see - My unprofitable life), and co-authored with his brother, Robert, a biography of his father. He rose up the church ranks quickly, becoming archdeacon of Surrey and canon of Winchester, and served as rector of Alverstoke, Hampshire, between 1840 and 1845. In 1841, he was appointed chaplain to Prince Albert, and in 1847 became Lord High Almoner to Queen Victoria, a post he held until 1869.

In the mid-1840s, Wilberforce became Dean of Westminster and Bishop of Oxford. When John Henry Newman, leader of the Oxford Movement, converted to Roman Catholicism, Wilberforce used his influence to try to keep the Movement together. He was a frequent critic of liberal bishops and is particularly remembered for attacking Darwin’s theory of evolution. In the 1850s, he founded one of the first Anglican theological colleges. In 1869, he was appointed Bishop of Winchester. He died on 19 July 1873. See Wikipedia, the Natural History Museum, or Anglican History for further biographical information.

For much of his life, Wilberforce kept a fairly detailed diary. This was used, and quoted, extensively for a three volume biography - Life of the Right Reverend Samuel Wilberforce - put together first by A. R. Ashwell, and then, after Ashwell’s death, by Wilberforce’s son, Reginald (John Murray, 1880-1882). All three volumes are freely available at Internet Archive.

Here are several extracts from Wilberforce’s diary, showing his politicking, his easy relations with royalty, and a good deal of self-analysis too. Only once, as far as I can tell, does Wilberforce mention Darwin in his diary. Reginald’s text, accompanying that one mention, bemoans the lack of any further reports by his father on the Darwin debate, but does include an interesting anecdote.

4 February 1855
‘Prepared sermon for St. Mary’s, Princes Street, Lambeth a most miserable population in Lambeth, through which I passed which quickened me in my sermon. To Chapel Royal in the afternoon, and walked back with Gladstone. Lord John has ‘utterly’ failed in forming a Ministry. Thank God. Lord Palmerston now sent for. He was invited by Lord Derby to join with Gladstone and Sidney Herbert. At first he was unwilling, and at night declined. Gladstone and Sidney Herbert ready to serve. Gladstone though feeling acutely the evil of Shaftesbury’s suggested Bishops would not feel clear on that ground of refusing not a fair constitutional ground. Dined with the Bishop of London. He agrees as to Convocation course. The Archbishop came to him yesterday. Had heard from Dean Elliott, and others, as to impropriety of allowing Convocation to meet in Ministerial interregnum. Second letter by a friend from Shaftesbury who is to move about it in the House of Lords to-morrow. The Bishop (London) said he thought Lord Aberdeen’s letter settled it. That he was in till another appointed and no right to suppose there would be a change; rather insulting to Lord Aberdeen and not very civil to the Queen (whose will he expressed) now to alter. The Archbishop: ‘Quite a relief to find that your opinion; it was my first opinion, and I shall be prepared to state it to-morrow in the House.’ ’

7 February 1855
‘Off to Windsor, to Chapter (of the Garter), and saw the Queen afterwards. She was cheerful and very affable. Went after Chapter to Clewer. Long conversation with Mrs. Monsell. Things quiet in House; but Miss –– very unsettled in mind. Fear that she will ultimately Romanize. Dear –– is acted on by these women far too much, and kept from heartily and with a strong English tone putting down the sentimentalism which leads to Rome. Dear fellow! he is good, and gentle, and loving beyond praise. But I am always trying to keep him from that perilous neighbourhood.

In the evening a large party. I had a talk with Lord Aberdeen about Palmerston’s Church preferment. Suppose Montagu Villiers must be a Bishop. But Palmerston will beware of Shaftesbury, for fear of Gladstone, &c. Lord Aberdeen natural, simple, good, and honest as ever. A longish talk on politics with good Stockmar, Lord Aberdeen’s honesty, Lord Palmerston’s ambition. He agreed with me that Lord Palmerston was a great take-in, but that it was necessary that bubbles should burst. He would have much preferred seeing Gladstone and Herbert join with Lord Derby. On the Continent it is constitutional liberty which is reproached by our failure at Sebastopol. They say, If England with all her strength cannot make head against the Autocrat, who could that has a constitutional Government, &c.? As to the Royal Family, he said, ‘The Prince of Wales is the strongest of all. He can bear great fatigue. He takes most after his father’s family. The Princess Royal is a thorough Brunswick. She is very clever indeed, has great imagination and varied powers; her picture of “The New Year” full of ability, &c. Prince Albert is not a strong man; a little would throw him down. The Duke of Kent was the ablest of that family. The Duke of Cambridge and King William the Fourth the kindest but the most stupid.’

20 March 1856
‘To Windsor Castle. The Confirmation of Princess Royal interesting she devout, composed, earnest; youngest sister much affected the Queen and Prince also. The Queen spoke most kindly to me after: all very kind. On to London large Confirmation at St. James’s  felt constrained, and very unlike my own. Then to London House. Met Dr. Todd, who spoke hopefully of Bishop. Saw him, very low, very affecting state, spoke of himself as dying. I certain to succeed him, and no one to whom he could more happily entrust his Diocese, &c. About himself, his keen sight of past sins; no hope but simply in Christ’s sacrifice for him. A great struggle between conscience and faith. Pray for me. A most affecting sight in one so good. How awful to all the vision of sin in the light of God’s countenance.’

23 March 1856
‘Very low all day, blessed Easter day as it was. But felt so bitterly my desolateness: my darling Emily gone or all would be too gladsome for earth. My Herbert! Robert and Henry worse than gone. Beloved Mrs. Sargent 76; Ella married. The three boys, will they be taken as they grow up? God’s will be done.’

20 May 1860
‘Up in good time and prepared sermon on ‘All are yours.’ Preached at St. James’s, great crowd; collected 176l. Then back to my rooms and finished (Darwin review) [for the Quarterly Review]. Walked across the Park with Gladstone, he rather subdued; he said, ‘If the next twenty years alter as much the position of those who govern England, &c.’

Reginald Wilberforce’s text accompanying the above diary extract says this: ‘From June 27 to July 3 the British Association was at Oxford: it is much to be regretted that the reports of the debates are of the most meagre description. From those which we possess, it is to be gathered that the Bishop on two occasions took part in the discussions. First in the Geographical Section, when, after the reading of some of Dr. Livingstone’s recent letters, Mr. Craufurd, the President of the Ethnological Society, argued against the scheme of extending commerce and Christianity in Central Africa, on the ground of the great difficulties that had to be overcome and of the incapacity of the natives to receive such benefits. The Bishop spoke against these inferences, and, when supporting an opposite view, carried his audience by the force of his argument. Secondly, in the Zoology and Botany Section, where a discussion took place on the soundness or unsoundness of the Darwinian theory. The Bishop, who, as the last-quoted Diary entry shows, had just reviewed Mr. Darwin’s work ‘On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection,’ made a long and eloquent speech condemning Mr. Darwin’s theory as unphilosophical and as founded on fancy, and he denied that any one instance had been produced by Mr. Darwin which showed that the alleged change from one species to another had ever taken place. In the course of this speech, which made a great impression, the Bishop said, that whatever certain people might believe, he would not look at the monkeys in the Zoological as connected with his ancestors, a remark that drew from a certain learned professor the retort, ‘I would rather be descended from an ape than a bishop.’

14 July 1863
‘Survey my Life. What wonderful advantages - my father’s son, his favourite, and so, companion. My good mother, such surroundings. My love for my blessed one, compassing me with an atmosphere of holiness - my ordination - my married life - my ministerial. Checkendon, its bliss, arid its work opening my heart. Brighstone, Alverstoke, the Archdeaconry, the Deanery, Bishopric, friends. My stripping bare in 1841. My children. Herbert’s death-bed. How has God dealt, and what have I really done - for HIM? Miserere Domine is all my cry.

Cuddesdon Chapel. After meditation on Death, resolve:
(I) to take periodic times for renewing this meditation;
(II) to strive to live more in the sight of Death;
(III) to commend myself more entirely as dying creature into the Hand of the only Lord of Life.’

The Diary Junction

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A journey to Flanders

Joshua Reynolds, one of the most important 18th century British painters and a founder of the Royal Academy of Arts, was born 290 years ago today. Although not a diarist, he did keep pocket-books which one author has called diaries from which he has ‘gleaned’ much about Reynold’s daily life as an artist. Also, later in life when travelling in northern Europe, he kept a diary of sorts which sheds light on his huge admiration for the Flemish painter, Peter Paul Rubens.

Reynolds was born in Plympton, Devon, on 16 July 1723, the third son of the Rev. Samuel Reynolds, master of the Free Grammar School in the town. Schooled by his father, he showed an early interest in art - his first recorded portrait dates from 1735 - and was apprenticed in London in 1740 to the Devon-born painter Thomas Hudson. After his father’s death in 1745, he took a house in, what is now, Devonport with his two unmarried sisters. However, by 1747 he was spending extended periods in London, where most of his clients lived, with a studio in St Martin’s Lane. The following year, Reynolds was named, by Universal Magazine, as one of the country’s most eminent painters, indeed he was the second youngest on the magazine’s list (only Thomas Gainsborough being younger).

Between 1749 and 1752, Reynolds travelled extensively on the Continent, mostly in Italy, where he was much influenced by the Italian use of colour and shading. On his return, he went to Devon for a few months before settling permanently, and for the rest of his life, in London. He became very successful, painting portraits of many important people, and by 1760 had sufficient wealth to purchase the lease on a large house, with space to show his works and accommodate assistants, by Leicester Fields (now Leicester Square).

Reynolds met Samuel Johnson in 1756, and, a few years later, he set up The Literary Club for a small circle of Johnson’s closest friends (including among others Edmund Burke and Oliver Goldsmith). He also painted Johnson several times. Reynolds was one of the earliest members of the Royal Society of Arts; and he helped found the Society of Artists. With Gainsborough, he established the Royal Academy of Arts, and, in 1768, became its first president, a position he held until his death. During the next ten years or so Reynolds exhibited over 100 pictures at the Royal Academy, considerably more than he had exhibited during the previous decade at the Society of Artists.

During the 1780s Reynolds turned increasingly for inspiration to the art of Flanders and the Low Countries, an interest which led to a two-month tour in 1781. He also focused more on history paintings, something his followers thought provided evidence of a genuine commitment to the cause of high art. His allegiance to the Whig party had become increasingly evident by this time, and several of his closest friends assumed key government positions when the Whigs returned to power in 1782. In 1784 Reynolds was sworn in as principal painter-in-ordinary to the King. After Johnson’s death, in 1784, Reynolds became friendlier with Boswell, who later dedicated his (now famous) biography of Johnson to Reynolds. In 1789 Reynolds lost the sight of his left eye, leading to his retirement; and he died in early 1792. Further biographical information is readily available at Wikipedia, for example, Spartacus, National Museums Liverpool, or Artble.

Writing the entry on Reynolds for the Oxford National Dictionary of Biography (log-in required), Martin Postle sums him up thus: ‘Reynolds dominated the British art world in the second half of the eighteenth century, and any cultural history of the period would not be complete without some recognition of his central role. Many qualities contributed to his success. First and foremost, Reynolds was the most innovative portrait painter of his generation. Despite technical shortcomings and a tendency to sacrifice quality for quantity, his best portraits retain an unrivalled power and physical presence. His professional skills were underpinned by an unswerving personal ambition, tempered with an awareness of what could be realistically achieved in the current artistic climate, and within the bounds of his own particular gifts. Reynolds appreciated the value of patronage and social networks, and despite his own political preferences (he was a thorough whig), established a wide circle of acquaintance. He was a loyal and generous friend and loved company.’

Given Reynolds prominence in 18th century society, references to him can be found in many diaries of the time, and, such was his influence, for long after his death too. His name has occurred in several different Diary Review articles. He is mentioned often in the diary of Joseph Farington, a later painter - see Farington on Dance; John Churton Collins, a writer and literary critic, wrote a book on Reynolds - see I thought I was out of the woods; and the poet and teacher William Johnson, later called Cory, was distantly related to Reynolds - see A peculiar pleasure.

Reynolds himself was not a regular diarist. That said, he did keep pocket books that are referred to as diaries, which were extensively mined by William Cotton for Sir Joshua Reynolds and his works, gleanings from his diary, unpublished manuscripts, and from other sources (Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, and Roberts; London, 1856). This can be read online at Googlebooks. The preface states: ‘The extracts from Sir Joshua’s private Diary contain much that is interesting and amusing, besides giving proof of the astonishing amount of work accomplished by him; for we there learn that he was often in his studio from nine o’clock in the morning till four in the afternoon, and received as many as seven or eight sitters in as many consecutive hours. But when absent from home, he appears to have enjoyed the sports of the field, and on one occasion, in September 1770, we find him hunting and shooting every day during a week’s visit at Saltram.’

In a chapter of the book entitled Reynold’s diary, from 1755 to 1790, Cotton ‘gleans’ ‘a more complete list of his works than has hitherto been published’. Indeed, the vast majority of extracts are simply names of those who have come to sit for portraits. Here is one extract as found in Cotton’s book:

‘Extracts from the Diary
April. The Lady Northumberland’s portrait to be finished.
June. The Duke of Portland.
Frame for the little picture of Master Pelham.
August. To send Mrs. Fortescue’s and Mr. Shirley’s portraits to be copied.’

For a short period in July 1781, during a trip to Flanders and Holland, Reynolds wrote down something akin to a diary, more like notes really. Postle in the ONDB says ‘Reynolds’s detailed journal entries, which were intended ultimately for publication, reveal that the tour was organized around major private collections in the Low Countries and the great altarpieces of Flanders’. In any case, Reynold’s narrative of the journey was first published in 1798 by Cadell & Davies as part of the second volume of The Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds by Edmond Malone. This is freely available online at Internet Archive.

The text of A Journey to Flanders and Holland is almost exclusively taken up with descriptions of paintings, though the final section is more of a treatise on the genius of Rubens. Here are the first three paragraphs.

‘At Ostend, where we landed, July 27, 1781, there are no pictures, and even Bruges affords but a scanty entertainment to a Painter: however, there are a few, which, though not of the first rank, may be worth the attention of a traveller who has time to spare.

In the Cathedral. The high altar; the Adoration of the Magi, by Segers. This picture is justly considered as one of the best of that painter’s works. The part which first obtrudes itself on your attention is one of the kings, who is  placed in the front : this figure, not withstanding its great fame, and its acknowledged excellence in many respects, has one great defect; it appears to have nothing to do with the rest of  the composition, and has too much the air of a whole-length portrait. What gives it so much this appearance is, the eyes looking out of the picture; that is, he is looking at the person who looks at the picture. This always has a bad effect, and ought never to be practised in a grave historical composition, however successfully it may be admitted in ludicrous subjects,  where no business of any kind, that requires eagerness of attention, is going forward.

The second altar on the right from the door is the Nativity, by Otho Venius. Many parts of this picture bring to mind the manner of Rubens, particularly the colouring of the arm of one of the shepherds : but in comparison of Rubens it is but a lame performance,  and would not be worth mentioning here, but from its being the work of a man who had the honour to be the master of Rubens.’

And here is the last paragraph of A Journey to Flanders and Holland.

‘To conclude; I will venture to repeat in favour of Rubens, what I have before said in regard to the Dutch school, that those who cannot see the extraordinary merit of this great painter, either have a narrow conception of the variety of art, or are led away by the affectation of approving nothing but what comes from the Italian school.’

Friday, July 12, 2013

I also love Kenya

It is 20 years since Dan Eldon - a bright young star of photojournalism - was killed aged only 22 covering events in Somalia that presaged the so-called Battle of Mogadishu later that year. Eldon’s memory has been kept alive by his family through various initiatives, one of which is a website - Dan Eldon: artist, activist, adventurer - which has a lot of information about, and many extracts from, Eldon’s extraordinary, collage-based, journals.

Dan Eldon was born in London in 1970, the son of a British father and American mother. Aged seven, he and his younger sister moved to live in Kenya with their parents. During the 1982 attempted coup and the aftermath, Eldon joined his mother, a journalist at the time, on local assignments, and was soon taking photographs for local newspapers. Aged still only 14, he launched a fund-raising campaign to help save the life of a young Kenyan girl, and a year or so later began supporting a Maasai family by buying their handmade jewellery, to sell on to students and friends.

In 1988, Eldon graduated from the International School of Kenya, winning various awards and being voted the most outstanding student. That same year he went to New York to work on a magazine, but a few months later moved to study in California. Thereafter, and for the next few years, he kept switching his place of study, while regularly dreaming up schemes to get back to Africa, usually by undertaking somewhat wild but charitable adventures. One of these involved the donation of a Land Rover and money to a refugee camp in Malawi, while others involved the purchase of goods in Morocco to resell in the US to fund a charity he had set up.

In April 1992, Eldon joined a film crew in Kenya; then, with the Somali famine raging, he flew to the Somali town of Baidoa, where he shot some of the first dramatic photographs seen in the West. Reuters spotted them, and engaged his services, thus giving his photographs (of the increasingly desperate situation) much wider coverage. During the spring of 1993, he stayed in Mogadishu, and in June one of his photographs made a double-page spread in Newsweek magazine, as well as the covers of newspapers worldwide. By this time he had also published a first book of his photographs, and had set up various businesses - selling t-shirts and postcards, for example - to raise money.

A few weeks later, on 12 July, he raced, with three colleagues, across the city to cover a raid to arrest the warlord General Aidid. Many innocent people were killed in that UN raid, and in the subsequent confusion Eldon and his colleagues, trying to take photographs, were stoned and beaten to death by an angry mob. Further biographical information is available from the Dan Eldon website, and from Wikipedia.

After Eldon’s death and to honour his legacy, his mother Kathy Eldon and sister Amy Eldon Turtletaub founded, in 1998, the Creative Visions Foundation (CVF) to help others like Dan ‘use media and the arts to create meaningful change in the world around them’. To date CVF ‘has incubated more than 100 projects and productions on 5 continents, by providing fiscal sponsorship, mentorship, inspiration, fundraising, connectivity, and step-by-step toolkits for launching projects’. It claims that creative activists under its umbrella ‘have touched more than 90 million people and raised more than $11.2 million to fund their projects’.

One of projects organised by the family has been to set up the website - Dan Eldon: artist, activist, adventurer - and another has been to promote Eldon’s extraordinary journals and notebooks. The website says this: ‘Dan left behind seventeen bound leather journals filled with drawings, writings and photographs which constructed vivid collages of the world he saw. These journals chronicle a child’s journey into manhood, visual editorials on society, and homages to strangers and loved ones. Dan’s images represent his enduring belief that every individual has a creative spark within that can transform their environment for the better. His journals are a celebration of adventure and a testament to live life to its fullest.’

The diaries were first published as The Journey is the Destination: The Journals of Dan Eldon in 1997 by Chronicle Books in San Francisco and Booth-Clibborn Editions in London. The publisher’s blurb stated: ‘This is no ordinary diary; it is an astonishing collage of photographs, drawings, words, maps, clippings, paints, scraps, shards, and trash that reveals his strange and vivid life. The wild trips and weird places, the lovers and late nights, the danger and fun are captured in pages that seem to shiver with passion, opinion, and dark humor. Eldon’s journal holds up a pure mirror to both the sickness of the modern world and the fragile happiness of the human condition, and ultimately, reveals the accidental beauty that only a young artist can truly capture.’

A detailed introduction to the journals by Jennifer New can be found on the Eldon website, as can a generous collection of extracts and images from the diaries themselves. The earliest diaries do contain some text and diary writing, but most of the pages in all the journals are filled to bursting with collages rather than text - but here is one short extract from one of the earliest journals.

22 August 1982
‘I have decided that I am happier this year than any other. I am enjoying life and the people in our class. I have a lighter class load this year. Last year I took French and German and I have dropped German for a year. I also love Kenya (I always have but I still do). I like it less when the weather is bad. We have bought land at the coast where we will build a house which I am looking forward to.’

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Haig and Wordsworth

The diaries of Field Marshal Douglas Haig and of Dorothy Wordsworth have just been added to the UK Memory of the World Register, a Unesco initiative to list documentary heritage of cultural significance. Haig’s diaries are considered important for the insight they provide into army operations during the First World War; and Wordsworth’s journal is judged a literary work of international significance, as well as having been an inspiration to her more famous poet brother.

Unesco announced on 9 July that 11 items had been selected from the UK’s libraries, archives and museums to represent the outstanding heritage of the United Kingdom. From the Domesday Book to Hitchcock’s Silent Films, it said, these priceless items span nearly 900 years, come from across the country and embody pivotal moments in the history of their communities and the UK as a whole. Included among the 11 new items are two diary-based collections: the Haig diaries, held by the National Library of Scotland, and the Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal, held by the Wordsworth Trust.

This was the third group of inscriptions to Unesco’s UK Memory of the World Register, an online catalogue created to help promote the UK’s documentary heritage across the UK and the world, and follows two earlier groups of inscriptions in 2010 and 2011 - the latter of which included Anne Lister’s diaries. See The Diary Junction for more on Lister’s diaries.

As well as country-specific registers, Unesco also administers an International Member of the World Register (‘a catalogue of documentary heritage of global significance and outstanding universal value’) which includes a number of UK collections.

For the UK Memory of the World Register, Unesco’s announcement said this of Haig’s diaries: ‘The role of the British Army in the First World War and the competence or otherwise of her generals continues to be a subject of debate. As Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, Field Marshal Douglas Haig commanded the largest British Army ever assembled and, for his role in the war, has become arguably the most controversial general in the Army’s history. Haig kept a diary throughout the war, and this momentous document now forms part of Haig’s personal papers at the National Library of Scotland.

The diary is vital to understanding key battles such as the Somme and Passchendaele through Haig’s own words, recorded on an almost daily basis. It is of national importance because, although no one single document can tell the whole story, it is at the heart of the documentary evidence that has informed modern opinion on the First World War. Whilst research in more recent years has begun to move away from focusing on the successes or failures of a small number of generals, the diary has remained central to an understanding of not just the role played by Haig, but of the British Army, her generals and her allies. It offers an insight into how and why decisions were made as events unfolded in the fields of Belgium, France and beyond. Regardless of one’s viewpoint on Haig’s own character or abilities, the diary is an essential element of the documentary heritage of the First World War. Written in these circumstances, the diary offers an immediacy that few documentary sources can in the day-to-day record and analysis of this cataclysm.’

Haig was born in Edinburgh in 1861, and educated at Clifton School, Bristol, and Oxford University. He entered the army in 1885, serving as a cavalry officer in the Sudan and distinguishing himself in South Africa during the Boer War. He served under Lord Kitchener in India. From 1905 to 1909 he played an important role in reforming the British Army. At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 Haig served as Commander of the First Army Corps of the British Expeditionary Force, and shortly after, in 1915, was promoted to Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Force.

Although greatly admired among his fellow officers, Haig was mistrusted by the Prime Minister, Lloyd George who considered he was wasting soldiers’ lives without any prospect of victory. During 1919, Haig served as Commander-in-Chief Home Forces in Great Britain; he retired in 1920, devoting much energy to improving the welfare of ex-servicemen; and he died in 1928. His role during the war remains controversial to this day, with some claiming he was a butcher, a class-based incompetent commander, unable to grasp modern tactics and technologies, and others maintaining that his role was crucial in defeating the German army through a war of attrition.

Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia and the National Library of Scotland website. Here is part of Haig’s diary entry for the day the war ended.

11 November 1918
‘Fine day but cold and dull. –

Reports from Foch’s H.Q. state that meeting with German delegates (which took place in train in the Forest of Compiègne, not in Château as previously reported) began at 2 a.m. and at 5 a.m. the Armistice was signed. The Germans pointed out that if the rolling stock & supplies of the Army (which have to be handed over by the terms of the Armistice) are given up, then Germans East of the Rhine will starve. Report says Foch was rather brutal to the German delegates, and replied that that was their affair!

The Armistice came into force at 11 a.m.

The state of the German Army is said to be very bad, and the discipline seems to have become so low that the orders of the officers are not obeyed. Capt[ai]n von Helldorf who tried to get back to Spa from Compiègne with the terms of the Armistice by night was fired at deliberately by the German troops [ ] and could not pass, while on another they broke up the bridges so that he could proceed.

At 11 a.m. I had a meeting in Cambrai with the 5 Army Com[mande]rs’ and Gen. Kavanagh Com[mandin]g Cavalry Corps. I explained that for the moment my orders are to advance onto a sector of the German frontier 32 miles wide extending from Verviers (exclusive) to Houffalize in the South. The Northern half of this sector would be held by the 2nd army; South[er]n half by 4th army. The other armies w[oul]d for the present either stand fast, or send back behind railheads such divisions as could not be easily supplied. Each army sent forward would consist of 4 Corps = 32 Div[isio]ns. The remaining 28 Div[isio]ns w[oul]d be under the command of the 1st, 3rd, & 5th Army Commanders. The selection of Div[isio]ns had been made for reasons of man-power & recruiting, but I sh[oul]d be glad of any suggestions from Army Com[mande]rs in the subject.

I then pointed out the importance of looking after the troops during the period following the cessation of hostilities – Very often the best fighters are the most difficult to deal with in periods of quiet! I suggested a number of ways in which men can be kept occupied. It is [as much] the duty of all officers to kept their men amused, as it is to train them for war. Staff officers must – If funds are wanted, G.H.Q. should be informed & I’ll arrange for money to be found.

After the Conference, we were all taken on the Cinema! Gen. Plumer, whom I told to ‘go off and be cinema’ed’ went off most obediently and stood before the camera, trying to look his best, while Byng, & others near him were chaffing the old man and trying to make him laugh.’

‘Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere journal,’ the Unesco announcement said, ‘is a work of literature of international significance. It was also the inspiration for her brother William, one of the leading figures of British Romanticism. The journal gives readers today a unique insight into the lives of these two remarkable people.  William and Dorothy Wordsworth arrived at Dove Cottage, Grasmere, in 1799, when they were both in their late twenties. In May 1800, William left Grasmere for a short absence and Dorothy decided to write a journal for his ‘pleasure’ when he returned. So began a journal that she continued to write for the next thirty or so months.

Four notebooks survive; a fifth, covering most of 1801, is now missing. The journal was written largely within the Dove Cottage household and describes in Dorothy’s beautiful prose her observations of domestic life, her neighbourhood and the natural world. It also records one of the world’s greatest poets at work.  From the journal we can picture the scene of brother and sister walking, talking, reading and writing together. It is an intimate portrait of a life in a place which, to them, was an earthly paradise.’

Further information on Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal can be found at the Wordsworth Trust website, The Diary Junction and The Diary Review. Here is one extract from the diary considered particularly interesting for it is known to have inspired Wordsworth’s most famous poem I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.

15 April 1802
‘The wind was furious... the Lake was rough... When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow park we saw a few daffodils close to the water side, we fancied that the lake had floated the seeds ashore & that the little colony had so sprung up -- But as we went along there were more & yet more & at last under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about & about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness & the rest tossed & reeled & danced & seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the Lake, they looked so gay ever glancing ever changing. This wind blew directly over the lake to them. There was here & there a little knot & a few stragglers a few yards higher up but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity & unity & life of that one busy highway... -- Rain came on, we were wet.’

The Diary Junction

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Edward VI, the Boy King

‘The lordes of the counsel sat at Gildhaul in London, where in the presence of a thousand peple they declared to the maire and bretherne their slouthfulnes in suffering unreasonable prices of thinges, and to craftesmen their wilfulnes etc, telling them that if apon this admonition they did not amende, I was holly determined to call in their liberties as confiscat, and to appoint officers that shold loke to them.’ This entry about a cost-of-living crisis comes from the remarkable diary of Edward VI, dubbed the Boy King, who died 460 years ago today aged only 15.

Edward, born in October 1537, was the only legitimate son of Henry VIII. His mother Jane Seymour died 12 days after his birth. On the death of his father nine years later, Edward became king. The realm, however, was governed by a Regency Council, which, initially, was led by Edward’s uncle Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset. Towards the end of 1549, Somerset was arrested for mismanaging the government - the year had seen widespread social unrest across England - and eventually beheaded in January 1552.

Thereafter, the Regency Council was led by John Dudley, 1st Earl of Warwick, and, from 1551, by Duke of Northumberland. But, as Edward fell ill in early 1553, so a succession crisis loomed. Edward himself named Lady Jane Grey, a great-granddaughter of Henry VIII and a Protestant married to one of Northumberland’s sons, as his heir presumptive. A few days after Edward’s death on 6 July, Jane was indeed proclaimed queen, though there is academic debate over whether she was ever a legitimate monarch. A further nine days on, the Privy Council changed its mind and named Edward VI’s Catholic half-sister Mary as queen. Jane was executed the following year, aged 16.

Edward, himself, probably died of tuberculosis, though some have claimed he was poisoned. He was a precocious child, and his short reign is considered to have made a lasting contribution to the English Reformation, and to have seen radical changes in how the church operated. The pace of change stalled then with Edward’s successor, Mary, until Elizabeth took the crown in 1558. Further biographical information is readily available from Wikipedia or English History for example.

Remarkably, while king, Edward kept a diary - its 68 leaves are held by the British Library. He may have been prompted to do so by one of his tutors. In order to make a complete chronicle of his reign, he started with a description of his childhood until 1547, followed it with a list of past events (mostly referring to himself in the third person), and then from March 1550 he kept daily entries until November 1552. It was first published in Gilbert Burnet’s The History of the Reformation of the Church of England (volume 4), and later, in 1857, as part of the Literary Remains of King Edward the Sixth by John Gough Nichols (from which the following extracts are taken). Nichols says the diary’s value does not lie in its completeness, nor in its minute accuracy, but rather in ‘its incidental disclosures of state policy, and in its continual reflection of the character and pursuits of the young monarch himself’. So dense are the historically important references, that Nichols’s footnotes often take up far more of the page than Edward’s diary itself.

In his 1966 study, England’s Boy King: The Diary of Edward VI, Wilbur Kitchener Jordan sums up the diary’s importance: ‘Surely in English history, and very possibly in European history, there is no historical source quite of the nature of the Chronicle of Edward VI. It is in part private diary, in part an educational exercise, and in part considered notes on policy and administration. The document stands as one of the major sources for our knowledge of the entire reign and not infrequently constitutes our only source of information for events of considerable significance.’ The full text of the diary - in the Literary Remains and in The History of the Reformation - is available online at Internet Archive and Googlebooks respectively; and, extracts from the diary can also be found at the Tudors Wiki and English History websites.

24 May 1550
‘The embassadours came to me, presenting the ligier, and also delivering lettres of credaunce from the French king.’

25 May 1550
‘The embassadours came to the court, where thei saw me take the oth for th’acceptation of the treaty, and afterward dined with me; and after diner saw a pastime of tenne against tenne at the ring, wherof on th’on(e) sid(e) were the duke of Sowthfolk, the vice-dam, the lord Lisle, and seven other gentlemen, appareled in yelow; on the other, the lord Stra(nge), mons. Henadoy, and yeight other, in blew.’

26 May 1550
‘The embassadours saw the baiting of the bearis and bullis.’

27 May 1550
‘The embassadours, after thei had hunted, sat with me at souper.’

28 May 1550
‘The same went to see Hampton court, where thei did hunt, and the same night retourne to Durasme place.’

29 May 1550
‘The embassadours had a fair souper made them by the duke of Somerset, and afterward went into the tems (on the Thames) and saw both the beare hunted in the river, and also wilfier cast out of botis, and many prety conceites.’

30 May 1550
‘The embassadours toke ther leve, and the next day departid.’

15 April 1551
‘A conspiracy opened of the Essex men, who within three dayes after minded to declare the comming of straungers, and so to bring peple together to Chemsford, and then to spoile the riche men’s houses if they could.’

16 April 1551
‘Also of Londoners, who thought to rise on May day against the straungers of the cité; and both the parties committed to warde.’

24 May 1551
‘An earthquake was at Croidon and Blechingliee, and in the most part of Surrey, but no harme was donne.’

10 July 1551
‘At this time cam the sweat into London, wich was more vehement then the old sweat. Por if one toke cold he died mthin 3 houres, and if he skaped it held him but 9 houres, or 10 at the most. Also if he slept the first 6 houres, as he should be very desirous to doe, then he raved, and should die raving.’

11 July 1551
‘It grue so much, for in London the 10 day ther died 70 in the liberties, and this day 120, and also one of my gentlemen, another of my gromes, fell sike and died, that I removed to Ampton court with very few with me. [The epidemic called the sweating sickness, which remains a mystery today, had visited England before but this was the last major outbreak to occur, and thereafter vanished.]’

1 December 1551
‘The duke of Somerset cam to his triall at Westmyster halle. [The record mentions three indictments: 1) that he had designed to have seized the King’s person, and to have governed all affairs; 2) that he, with one hundred others, intended to have imprisoned the earl of Warwick, afterwards duke of Northumberland; and 3) that he had designed to have raised an insurrection in the city of London.]

He answerid he did not entend to raise London, [. . .] His assembling of men was but for his owne defence. He did not determin to kill the duke of Northumberland, the marquis, etc., but spake of it and determined after the contrary; and yet seamid to confess he went about there death. The lordis went togither. The duke of Northumberland wold not agree that any searching of his death shuld bee treason. So the lordis acquited him of high treason, and condemned him of treason feloniouse, and so he was adjuged to be hangid. He gave thankis to the lordis for there open trial, and cried mercy of the duke of Northumberland, the marquis of Northampton, and th’erle of Penbroke for his ill meaning against them, and made suet for his life, wife and children, servauntes and dettes, and so departed without the ax of the Toure. The peple, knowing not the matter, shouted hauf a douzen times, so loud that frome the halle dore it was hard at Chairing crosse plainly, and rumours went that he was quitte of all.’

22 January 1552
‘The duke of Somerset had his head cat of apon Towre hill betwene eight and nine a cloke in the morning.’

8 June 1552
‘The lordes of the counsel sat at Gildhaul in London, where in the presence of a thousand peple they declared to the maire and bretherne their slouthfulnes in suffering unreasonable prices of thinges, and to craftesmen their wilfulnes etc, telling them that if apon this admonition they did not amende, I was holly determined to call in their liberties as confiscat, and to appoint officers that shold loke to them.’

The Diary Junction

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

I am entirely alone

‘When I say something it immediately and finally loses its importance, when I write it down it loses it too, but sometimes gains a new one.’ So wrote Franz Kafka in his diary, exactly 100 years ago - on his 30th birthday. His diaries, which were saved for posterity, thanks to his friend, Max Brod, provide far more insight into Kafka’s intense, often depressing and guilt-laden mental world, than they do more directly into his literary works. One entry ends with ‘saw only solution in jumping out of the window’, and another with ‘I am entirely alone’.

Kafka was born on 3 July 1883 into a Jewish German-speaking family in Prague, then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. He had two brothers, both of whom died very young, and three sisters. He grew up fearing his father to the point of stuttering in his presence, but, nevertheless, continued to live at home for much of his adult life. He trained as a lawyer at the University of Prague and then was employed by the Worker’s Accident Insurance Institute, a job which he hated. Suffering from insomnia, he began writing at night. He was chronically ill with different complaints, including tuberculosis (diagnosed in 1917) which eventually killed him.

In 1902 Kafka met Max Brod and they would remain friends throughout Kafka’s life. He was engaged twice, to Felice Bauer and Julie Wohryzek, and, in the early 1920s, he fell in love with a married Czech writer Milena Jesenská Pollak. In the last year of his life, he met Dora Diamant, a Zionist and moved to Berlin to live with her. However, he returned to Prague, and then died in 1924, aged but 40, at a sanatorium near Vienna. Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia, The Kafka Project, The Modern World, or Kafka Online.

Though he was reluctant to publish his writing, and indeed published very little in his lifetime, Kafka is a giant in the literature world. His reputation stems largely from very few extraordinary novels - Der Process (The Trial), Das Schloss (The Castle), Amerika - which Brod published soon after his friend’s death. Kafka had left instructions for Brod to destroy all his written works, but Brod chose to ignore the request. Also among Kafka’s writings was a hoard of diaries. These were not translated and published in English until 1948-1949, when Secker & Warburg brought out two volumes (The Diaries of Franz Kafka 1910-1913, The Diaries of Franz Kafka 1914-1923) as translated by Joseph Kresh and Martin Greenberg. A one volume edition was published in 1964 by Peregrine Books.

A bit about Kafka’s diaries can be found at The Modern World, and The Times Literary Supplement. A few extracts in English can be read online at Twitter. The full texts in German can be read at The Kafka Project and at University of Vienna web pages created by Werner Haas. Here are a few extracts taken from the first published editions of the diaries. (Brod, too, kept a diary, and these have been the subject of some mystery - see The Diary Review article, Brod’s diaries in Kafkaesque story.)

2 July 1913
‘Wept over the report of the trial of a twenty-three-year-old Marie Abraham who, because of poverty and hunger, strangled her not quite nine-month-old child, Barbara, with a man’s tie that she used as a garter. Very routine story.

The fire with which, in the bathroom, I described to my sister a funny motion picture. Why can I never do that in the presence of strangers?

I would never have married a girl with whom I had lived in the same city for a year.’

3 July 1913
‘The broadening and heightening of existence through marriage. Sermon text. But I almost sense it.

When I say something it immediately and finally loses its importance, when I write it down it loses it too, but sometimes gains a new one.

A band of little golden beads around a tanned throat.’

21 July 1913
‘Don’t despair, not even over the fact that you don’t despair. Just when everything seems over with, new forces come marching up, and precisely that means that you are alive. And if they don’t then everything is over with here, once and for all.

I cannot sleep. Only dreams, no sleep. Today, in my dream, I invented a new kind of vehicle for a park slope. You take a branch, it needn’t be very strong, prop it up on the ground at a slight angle, hold one end in your hand, sit down on it side-saddle, then the whole branch naturally rushes down the slope, since you are sitting on the bough you are carried along at full speed, rocking comfortably on the elastic wood. It is also possible to use the branch to ride up again. The chief advantage aside from the simplicity of the whole device, lies in the fact the branch, thin and flexible as it is, can be lowered or raised as necessary and gets through anywhere, even where a person by himself would get through only with difficulty.

To be pulled in through the ground-floor window of a house by a rope tied around one’s neck and to be yanked up, bloody and ragged, through all the ceilings, furniture, walls, and attics, without consideration, as if by a person who is paying no attention, until the empty noose, dropping the last fragments of me when it breaks through the roof tiles, is seen on the roof.’

13 August 1913
‘Perhaps everything is now ended and the letter I wrote yesterday was the last one. That would certainly be the best. What I shall suffer, what she will suffer - that cannot be compared with the common suffering that would result. I shall gradually pull myself together, she will marry, that is the only way out among the living. We cannot beat a path into the rock for the two of us, it is enough that we wept and tortured ourselves for a year. She will realize this from my last letters. If not, then I will certainly marry her, for I am too weak to resist her opinion about our common fortune and am unable not to carry out, as far as I can, something she considers possible.’

14 August 1913
‘The opposite has happened. There were three letters. The last letter I could not resist. I love her as far as I am capable of it, but the love lies buried to the point of suffocation under fear and self-reproaches.

Conclusion for my case from ‘The Judgement’. I am indirectly in her debt for the story. But Georg goes to pieces because of his fiancée.

Coitus as punishment for the happiness of being together. Live as ascetically as possible, more ascetically than a bachelor, that is the only possible way for me to endure marriage. But she?

And despite all this, if we, I and F, had equal rights, if we had the same prospects and possibilities, I would not marry. But this blind alley into which I have slowly pushed her life makes it an unavoidable duty for me, although its consequences are by no means unpredictable. Some secret law of human relationship is at work here.’

15 August 1913
‘Agonies in bed towards morning. Saw only solution in jumping out of the window.’

21 August 1914
‘Began with such hope and was then repulsed by all three stories; today more so than ever. It may be true that the Russian story ought to be worked on only after The Trial. In this ridiculous hope, which apparently has only some mechanical notion behind it of how things work, I start The Trial again - The effort wasn’t entirely without result.’

29 August 1914
‘The end of one chapter a failure; another chapter, which began beautifully, I shall hardly - or rather certainly not - be able to continue as beautifully while at the time, during the night, I should certainly have succeeded with it. But I must not forsake myself, I am entirely alone.’

The Diary Junction