Friday, January 24, 2014

Fat alligators in Florida

Andrew Ellicott, one of the most important early surveyors in the United States, was born 260 years ago today. He helped survey borders with Canada and with the Spanish territories, worked on the boundaries of the District of Columbia, and completed the plan for Washington D.C. Unpublished diaries kept by Ellicott on some survey expeditions have been used by biographers, but there is one diary he published himself, concerning his work in ‘determining the boundary between the United States and the possessions of His Catholic Majesty in America’. It is full of well-observed notes on the land he’s passing through, its people, soils, rivers, minerals, and animals, not least the alligators.

Ellicott was born on 24 January 1754 in Buckingham Township, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the first child in what would be a large Quaker family. His father, a miller and clockmaker, together with his two brothers, purchased land on the Patapsco River and set up a new milling business there, founding the town of Ellicott’s Mills in 1772. Some three years later Andrew married Sarah Brown and they had nine children that survived childhood. He enlisted as a commissioned officer in the Elk Ridge Battalion of the Maryland militia during the American War of Independence, and rose to the rank of major.

After the war, Ellicott returned home to Ellicott’s Mills until he was appointed, in 1784, to the group tasked with extending the survey of the Mason-Dixon line (this had operated from 1763 tasked with resolving a border dispute between British colonies in Colonial America, but had been stalled since 1767). During the survey, he worked alongside the scientist David Rittenhouse and the educator and bishop James Madison. In 1785, the Ellicotts moved to Baltimore, where Andrew taught mathematics at the Academy of Baltimore. The following year he was elected to the legislature, and was called upon to survey and define the western border of Pennsylvania. This so-called Ellicott Line later became the principal meridian for the surveys of the Northwest Territory.

When Ellicott was subsequently appointed to lead other surveys in Pennsylvania, the family moved again in 1789 to Philadelphia. By recommendation of Benjamin Franklin, he was appointed by the new government under George Washington to survey the lands between Lake Erie and Pennsylvania to determine the border between Western New York and U.S. territory, resulting in the Erie Triangle. This survey, during which he also made the first topographical study of the Niagara River including the Niagara Falls, did much to enhance his reputation as a surveyor.

From 1791 to 1792, Ellicott surveyed the boundaries of the federal Territory of Columbia, which would become the District of Columbia in 1801. His team placed forty boundary stones a mile or so apart, many of which remain today. At the same time, he worked on surveying the future city of Washington, a project that brought much conflict with the French-born architect Pierre Charles L’Enfant. Further major projects followed for Ellicott, planning of the city of Erie, and working with the commission that was surveying the borders, negotiated in the Treaty of San Lorenzo, between the Spanish territories in Florida and the United States.

This latter work took four years, after which the John Adam’s government refused to pay Ellicott, and refused him access to the maps he had submitted, leaving him in serious financial trouble. It took until 1803 for the maps to be released to him, under Thomas Jefferson’s administration, which also offered Ellicott the post of Surveyor Journal. He turned it down, accepting instead a quieter life as Secretary of the Pennsylvania Land Office, and moving with his family to live in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Also in 1803, Jefferson engaged Ellicott to teach Meriwether Lewis, who would later be one of the leaders of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition (see White bear, drunk Indians).

After being fired by a new administration in Pennsylvania, Ellicott returned to private practice, and was hired to re-survey the border between Georgia and North Caroline. This job also ended acrimoniously, without his fees being paid, and the family moved to West Point where Ellicott worked as a professor of mathematics at the military academy. After one last significant survey, concerning the western border between Canada and the US in 1817, Ellicott died in 1820. Further information is available from Wikipedia, or from biographies freely available at Internet Archive, such as Andrew Ellicott - His Life and Letters by Catharine Van Cortlandt Mathews.

Ellicott was accustomed to keeping a diary on his survey expeditions, at least from the mid-1780s. Mathews says this: ‘Records of his earlier surveys were not kept, and it is not until ten years after his marriage that we have the first of those letters and diaries which tell the story of his life so simply and so unassumingly that the biographer cannot do better than to let them speak for him. They form a clear and fascinating picture of the men and manners, the country and the State of Andrew Ellicott’s day, while through even the briefest of them, shines out the character of the man himself, in all its simplicity, integrity, and kindliness. Between the lines of almost every scrap of manuscript he has left behind him, may be traced the quiet, sensible courage, the quick and keen observation of men and things, the tremendous capacity for hard work, and the complete indifference to the lures of wealth or fame, which seem to have been recognized by all who came in contact with him as the most characteristic qualities of the man.’

In her biography (published in 1908), Mathews quotes from various of Ellicott’s unpublished diaries. The only diary of Ellicott’s that appeared in his own lifetime was the one he kept in the late 1790s while surveying the border between the US and the Spanish territories. He was only able to publish this, finally, in 1803, when allowed access to the survey’s maps. The book, which is freely available at Internet Archive has an impressive title:

The Journal of Andrew Ellicott: late commissioner on behalf of the United States during part of the year 1796, the years 1797, 1798, 1799, and part of the year 1800: for determining the boundary between the United States and the possessions of His Catholic Majesty in America, containing occasional remarks on the situation, soil, rivers, natural productions, and diseases of the different countries on the Ohio, Mississippi, and Gulf of Mexico, with six maps comprehending the Ohio, the Mississippi from the mouth of the Ohio to the Gulf of Mexico, the whole of West Florida, and part of East Florida; to which is added an appendix, containing all the astronomical observations made use of for determining the boundary on a large scale, likewise a great number of Thermometrical Observations made at different times and places.

Here are several extracts.

6 December 1797
‘Spent at work upon our boats. Squalls of snow all day. Thermometer rose from 21° to 28°.’

7 December 1797
‘Finished repairing our boats. Cloudy great part of the day. Thermometer rose from 18° to 26°.’

8 December 1797
‘Detained till evening by our commissary, who was employed in procuring provision. Set off about sun down.’

The town of Louis Ville stands a short distance above the rapids on the east side of the river. The situation is handsome, but said to be unhealthy. The town has improved but little for some years past. The rapids are occasioned by the water falling from one horizontal stratum of lime-stone, to another; in some places the fall is perpendicular, but the main body of the water when the river is low, runs along a channel of a tolerably regular slope, which has been through length of time worn in the rock. In the spring when the river is full, the rapids are scarcely perceptible, and boats descend without difficulty or danger. Thermometer rose from 22° to 29°.’

9 December 1797
‘Floated all night. Stopped in the morning to cook some victuals, and then proceeded on till sunset and encamped.  Thermometer rose from 27° to 35°, Water in the river 53°.’

10 December 1797
‘Left the shore at sunrise. About nine o’clock in the morning discovered a Kentucky boat fast upon a log, and upon examination found that it was deserted, and suspected that the crew were on shore in distress, which we soon found to be the case. The crew consisted of several men, women, and children, who left the boat two days before in a small canoe when they found their strength insufficient to get her off. They were without any shelter, to defend them from the inclemency of the weather, and it was then snowing very fast. We spent two hours in getting the boat off, and taking it to the shore, where we received the thanks of the unfortunate crew, and left them to pursue their journey.

Having a desire to determine the geographical position of the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, and the large store boat not being calculated for expedition, I left her with directions to follow with all possible despatch, and pushed on myself for the mouth of the river. Stopped at sun down, to give our men time to cook some victuals: set off at eight o’clock in the evening, and proceeded down the river against a strong head wind till almost midnight, when it became so violent that we had to put to shore. Snow great part of the day. Thermometer rose from 21° to 28°. Water in the river 33°.’

11 Decmber 1797
‘Left the shore at daylight, and worked against a strong head wind till sunset, then went on shore to dress some victuals. Cloudy great part of the day. Thermometer rose from 23° to 29°. Left the shore at eight o’clock in the evening, and worked all night against a strong head wind.’

15 December 1797
‘Much ice in the river. Stopped at an Indian camp, and procured some meat. Dined at the great cave. This cave may be considered as one of the greatest natural curiosities on the river, and I have constantly lamented that I could not spare time to make a drawing of it, and take its dimensions. It is situated on the west side of the river. The entrance is large and spacious, and remarkably uniform, the dome is elliptical, and the uniformity continues to its termination in the hill.

Stopped about sunset to take in some wood. Set off in half an hour and floated all night. Cloudy part of the day. Thermometer rose from 21° to 41°.’

16 December 1797
‘At eight o’clock in the morning, one of our boats unfortunately ran on the roots of a tree, which were under water, and bilged. We spent till near one o’clock in the afternoon in repairing her, and then proceeded down the river till about sunset and encamped. The weather that day was very pleasant. Thermometer rose from 35° to 51°. Passed Cumberland river at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.’

19 December 1797
‘Set up the clock, and prepared to make some astronomical observations for the purpose of determining the latitude and longitude of the confluence of those great, and important rivers: for those, and the thermometrical observations made at this place, see the Appendix.

The map of the Ohio river which accompanies this work, is laid down from the best materials I could procure, a number of the latitudes between Pittsburgh and the rapids, were taken by myself: from thence down to the Mississippi, the latest charts have been used, except in a few places which have been corrected by my friend Don Jon Joaquin de Ferrer, an ingenious Spanish astronomer. The map is divided into two parts, that it may not be too large to fold in a quarto volume, and at the same time of such a size, as to shew distinctly the errors that may hereafter be discovered, and serve as a basis for future corrections.

The Ohio river, is formed by the junction of the Allegany and Monongahela rivers, at Pittsburgh, which name it retains till it falls into the Mississippi. It may not be improper here to observe, that all the Indians residing on the Allegany, ever since my acquaintance with the western country, have called that branch, as well as the main river, the Ohio, and appeared to know it by no other name.

The Ohio is certainly one of the finest rivers within the United States, whether considered as to magnitude, the great extent of its course, or the outlet it affords to an immense and fertile country rapidly filling with inhabitants.

The bottom and sides of the river are stony, from Pittsburgh down to the low country, which is generally supposed to be about eight hundred miles. The strata of stone are horizontally disposed, and principally consist of either freestone, or limestone. This horizontal disposition of the strata of stone, is observable through a very large extent of the United States. I have traced it from Oswego, up Lakes Ontario and Erie, with all the waters falling into them, and through all the western parts of Pennsylvania, and down the Ohio, wherever hills or mountains are to be seen.

The flat, or bottom lands on the Ohio, are not surpassed by any in the United States for fertility; but in many places they are small, and inconsiderable; being limited by hills or mountains, on one side, and the river on the other. A large proportion of the hills, and mountains, are unfit for agricultural purposes, being either too steep, or faced with rocks. The hills and mountains on the east side of the river, generally increase in magnitude, till they unite with the great ridge, commonly called the Allegany: but on the west side they decrease, till the country becomes almost a dead level.

The country produces all the immediate necessaries, of life in abundance, and far beyond the present consumption of the inhabitants; the residue, with many other articles, such as hemp, cordage, hard-ware, some glass, whisky, apples, cider, and salted provisions, are annually carried down the river to New Orleans, where they find a ready market. Mines of pit coal (lithanthrax), are not only abundant, but inexhaustible from Pittsburgh many miles down the river.

The inhabitants of no part of the United States are so much interested in establishing manufactories, as of this. They possess the raw materials, and can export their produce with ease, but their imports are attended with difficulty, great risk, and expense. And so long as they receive neither bounties, nor uncommon prices for their articles of exportation, and depend upon the Atlantic states for their supplies of European manufactures, the balance of trade will constantly be against them, and draw off that money, which should be applied to the improvement of the country, and the payment of their taxes. To this source, may in some degree be traced, the character the inhabitants have too generally had bestowed upon them of insurgents, and disorganizers; to a few individuals these epithets may be applied, but not to the body of the people. In order to judge fairly on this question, it will be necessary to take into view the local situation of the inhabitants. In the Atlantic states every article however minute, if a necessary of life, will not only find a ready market, but command cash. On the Ohio, and its waters, almost the only article, which has heretofore found a ready market at home, and would command cash, was their own distilled spirits. The taxing of this article would therefore be but little different from taxing every article in the Atlantic states, which commanded cash. Such a tax as the latter, I am inclined to believe, would be collected with difficulty, and probably with the same propriety, give the same turbulent character to a great majority of the nation.

I am far from justifying any opposition by force, to the execution of laws constitutionally enacted, they must either expire, or be constitutionally repealed; a contrary proceeding must terminate in the destruction of all order, and regular government, and leave the nation in a state of nature: but at the same time, it is a duty incumbent on the legislature, to attend to the local situations of the several constituent, or component parts of the union, and not pass laws, which are feebly felt in one part, and be oppressive in another. That some turbulent persons are to be met with on our frontiers, every person possessed of understanding and reflection, must be sensible, will be the case so long as we have a frontier, and men are able to fly from justice, or their creditors; but there are few settlements so unfortunate as to merit a general bad character from this class of inhabitants.

The people who reside on the Ohio and its waters, are brave, enterprising, and warlike, which will generally be found the strongest characteristical marks of the inhabitants of all our new settlements. It arises from their situation; being constantly in danger from the Indians, they are habituated to alarms, and acts of bravery become a duty they owe to themselves, and to their friends. But this bravery, too frequently when not checked by education, and a correct mode of thinking, degenerates into ferocity.

Vessels proper for the West India trade, may be advantageously built on the Ohio, and taken with a cargo every annual rise of the waters down to New Orleans, or out to the islands. The experiment has already been made, and attended with success.

The climate on the Ohio, does not appear to be inferior to that of any part of the union. The inhabitants enjoy as much health, as they do on any of the large rivers in the Atlantic states. At Pittsburgh, and for a considerable distance down the river, bilious complaints are scarcely known; but they are frequent at Cincinnati, and still more so at Louisville near the rapids.’

7 February 1800
‘We began our observatory, and sent a party to examine whether there was any communication between the river and Okefonoke Swamp, which after our arrival at St. Mary’s to our surprise, we found doubtful. The same day a number of canoes were sent down to the vessel to bring up some of our instruments and other articles, we were under the necessity of leaving behind.

On the 12th the instruments and other articles arrived, and a course of observations was began as soon as the weather permitted. In the evening the party that was sent to explore the source of the river, or its communication with the Okefonoke Swamp returned; but without making any satisfactory discovery, and the day following another party was despatched on the same business.

This being the season that the Alligators, or American Crocodiles were beginning to crawl out of the mud and bask in the sun, it was a favourable time to take them, both on account of their torpid state, and to examine the truth of the report of their swallowing pine knots in the fall of the year to serve them, (on account of their difficult digestion,) during the term of their torpor, which is probably about three months. For this purpose two Alligators of about eight or nine feet in length were taken and opened, and in the stomach of each was found several pine and other knots, pieces of bark, and in one of them some charcoal; but exclusive of such indigestible matter, the stomachs of both were empty. So far the report appears to be founded in fact: but whether these substances were swallowed on account of their tedious digestion, and therefore proper during the time those animals lay in the mud, or to prevent a collapse of the coats of the stomach, or by accident owing to their voracious manner of devouring their food, is difficult to determine.

The Alligator has been so often, and so well described, and those descriptions so well known, that other attempts have become unnecessary. It may nevertheless be proper to remark, that so far as the human species are concerned, the Alligators appear much less dangerous, than has generally been supposed, particularly by those unacquainted with them. And I do not recollect meeting with but one well authenticated fact of any of the human species being injured by them in that country, (where they are very numerous,) and that was a negro near New Orleans, who while standing in the water sawing a piece of timber, had one of his legs dangerously wounded by one of them. My opinion on this subject is founded on my own experience. I have frequently been a witness to Indians, including men, women and children, bathing in rivers and ponds, where those animals are extremely numerous, without any apparent dread or caution: the same practice was also pursued by myself and people, without caution, and without injury.

Some of the Alligators we killed were very fat, and would doubtless have yielded a considerable quantity of oil, which is probably almost the only use that will ever be made of them; however their tails are frequently eaten by the Indians and negroes, and Mr. Bowles informed me that he thought them one of the greatest of delicacies.

The Alligators appear to abound plentifully in musk, the smell of which is sometimes perceptible to a considerable distance, when they are wounded or killed; but whether the musk is contained in a receptacle for that purpose, and secreted by a particular gland or glands, or generally diffused through the system appears somewhat uncertain: and I confess their appearance was so disagreeable and offensive to me, that I felt no inclination to undertake the dissection of one of them.

The second party which had been sent to ascertain the connexion (if any,) between the river St. Mary’s and the Okefonoke Swamp returned on the 17th, having discovered the communication, and the day following a traverse was began, to connect the observatory with that part of the Swamp from whence the water issued, in order to determine its true geographical position.’

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Diary briefs

First World War diaries go online - The National Archives, BBC, The Guardian

Palmyra Civil War diary being transcribed - The Inquirer

Call for help in deciphering Palestine Campaign diaries - Yorkshire Post

Life of a Depression-era ‘G-Man’ - USA Today

Diary sheds life on Solomon (12 Years a Slave) Northup - Aljazeera America


Fire from the Sky - iUniverse, Amazon

Becoming a Londoner: A Diary - Bloomsbury, Amazon

Charles Brasch - Journals 1938-1945 - Otago University Press

Diary of an Uneducated Man - Arthur H. Stockwell

Diary of Olga Romanov - Westholme Publishing

Diary of a Southern Refugee during the War - University Press Kentucky

Mud and Bodies: The War Diaries & Letters of Captain N. A. C. Weir, 1914-1920 - Pen and Sword BooksAmazon

Monday, January 20, 2014

Edification and imitation

Isaac Ambrose, a 17th century Presbyterian priest who died 350 years ago today, was a great believer in the value of keeping a diary in order to improve one’s religious life. In one of his most important books, Prima, he argues the case for diary writing, and gives examples from his own diary.

Isaac, the son of Richard Ambrose, vicar of Ormskirk, Lancashire, was born in 1604, and studied for the priesthood at Brasenose College, Oxford. Through the influence of William Russell, Earl of Bedford, he became one of the King’s itinerant preachers in Lancashire, and then, thanks to Lady Margaret Hoghton, became vicar of Preston. Years later, he delivered a celebrated sermon at her funeral. He is said to have played a prominent part in the establishment of presbyterianism in Lancashire during the 1640s. He died on 23 January 1664. A little more biographical information can be found in Gary Brady’s Ambrose blog, A Puritan’s Mind website, and at Wikipedia.

During his life, Ambrose wrote widely on religious matters. In Prima; The First Things, in Reference to the Middle and Last Things he suggested Christians should keep a spiritual diary, and included extracts of his own. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (login required) suggests it is a pity that so little of Ambrose’s diary has survived. Prima is freely available at Internet Archive.

Here is most of the relevant section in Prima.

‘To this purpose we read of many Ancients that were accustomed to keep Diaries or Day-books of their actions, and out of them to take an Account of their Lives: Such a Register (of God’s Dealings towards him, and of his Dealings toward God in main Things) the Lord put into a poor Creature’s Heart to keep in the Year 1641, ever since which Time he hath continued it, and once a Year purposes (by God’s Grace) to examine himself by it; the Use and End of it, is this:

1. Hereby he observes something of God to his Soul, and of his Soul to God. 2. Upon Occasion he pours out his Soul to God in Prayer accordingly, and either is humbled or thankful. 3. He considers how it is with him in respect of Time past, and if he hath profited in Grace, to find out the Means whereby he hath profited, that he may make more constant Use of such Means; or wherein he hath decayed, to observe by what Temptation he was overcome, that his former Errors may make him more wary for the future.

Besides many other Uses, as of his own Experience and Evidences, which he may, by the Lord’s Help, gather out of this Diary. [. . .]

It may be expected, that I give some Example hereof, wherein if I might any way advance Christ or benefit his Church, tho I lay in the Dust, I should willingly publish and subscribe the daily Register of a poor unworthy Servant of Christ, indeed one of the meanest of his Master’s Family, for some Space of Time: As thus,’

13 May 1651
‘I retired my self to a solitary and silent Place to practice, especially the secret Duties of a Christian. My Ground is that Cant. vii. 11. 12. “Come my beloved, let us go forth into the fields. etc. there will I give thee my loves.” The Bridegroom of our Souls, said Bernard, is faithful, and more frequently visites his Bride in solitary places.’

14 May 1651
‘In a pleasant Wood, and sweet Walks in it, the Lord moved and enabled me to begin the Exercise of secret Duties: and after the prolegomena, or Duties in general, I fell on that Duty of watchfulness: The Lord then gave me to observe my former Negligence, and to make some Resolutions. I found the Lord sweet to me in the Conclusion of the Duty. Allelujah.’

15 May 1651
‘I fell on the duty of Self-trial, and in the Morning confessed my Sins before and since Conversion, wherein the Lord sweetly melted my Heart. In the Evening I perused my Diary for the last Year, wherein are many Passages of Mercies from God, and Troubles for sin, etc.’

16 May 1651
‘In the Morning I went thro’ the Duty of experiences, and felt some Stirrings of God’s Spirit in my Soul. In the evening I fell on the Duty of Evidences, when I acted Faith, and found my Evidences clear. Oh how sweet was my God!’

17 May 1651
‘This Day in the morning I meditated on the Love of Christ, wherein Christ appeared, and melted my Heart in many sweet Passages. In the Evening I meditated on Eternity, wherein the Lord both melted, and cheered, and warmed, and refreshed my soul. Surely the Touches of God’s Spirit are as sensible as any outward Touches. Allelujah.’

19 May 1651
‘In the former part of this Day, I exercised the Life of Faith, when the Lord strengthened me to act Faith on several Promises, both temporal, spiritual, and eternal. I had then sweet, refreshing, and encouraging Impressions on my Soul against all the fearful, sinful, and doubtful Dreams I had the Night or two before dreamed. In the Evening I considered the duty of Prayer, observed some Workings of God’s Spirit in my perusing the Rules, and afterwards in the Practice of this Duty. Blessed be God!’

‘I had proceeded in this Diary, but that I doubt whether the Knowledge of many such Particulars may not prove offensive either to the weak or wilful. And I would not willingly occasion any Matter of Offence to those that are within or without the Church. Thus much, only for Edification, and Imitation, I have written. And tho with David I declare what God hath done for my Soul, [. . .] yet with Paul, I ever desire to correct my self; I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.’

The Diary Junction

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Dacre’s non-fake diaries

Today marks Lord Dacre’s centenary. Better remembered as Hugh Trevor-Roper, he was one of Britain’s leading historians and intellectual celebrities in the second half of the 20th century, though he never produced a major work to define his career. Instead, his professional status was fatally undermined when he wrongly authenticated a set of fake Hitler diaries in 1983. Somewhat ironically, a cache of his own secret diaries, not fake, were discovered after his death, and published in 2011.

Trevor-Roper was born on 15 January 1914 in Glanton, Northumberland, England, the son of a doctor. He was educated at Charterhouse and at Christ Church, Oxford, later moving to Merton College, Oxford, as a research fellow. Though initially intending to make a career in the classics, he switched to history, publishing his first book - a revisionist biography of Archbishop William Laud (see also My picture fallen) - in 1940.

During the Second World War, Trevor-Roper served in the Secret Intelligence Service, helping to decrypt German intelligence material and to establish the need for further such work at Bletchley Park. In late 1945, he was ordered to investigate the circumstances of Adolf Hitler’s death, and to rebut Soviet propaganda that the dictator was alive and living in the West. He used the results of his investigation to write a book - The Last Days of Hitler - which would become and remain the most famous of his publications.

After the war, Trevor-Roper returned to Oxford as a fellow of Christ Church college, choosing to battle established historical norms or ways of viewing history rather than working on and writing any major books for himself. Some called him a controversialist, and his feuds were ‘many and slashing’ (according a New York Times review of Adam Sisman’s biography of Trevor-Roper - An Honourable Englishman). He was a much sought after writer, contributing essays, reviews and travel writing to high quality newspapers and magazines on both sides of the Atlantic.

In 1953, Trevor-Roper began an affair with Xandra - Lady Alexandra, wife of Rear-Admiral Howard-Johnston - who was 11 years his senior. They married the following year after her acrimonious divorce. Thus, he acquired three step-children (he never had any of his own). Again according to the New York Times review, the marriage ‘did not entirely dispel rumors that he was gay’.  Around this time, Hugh’s brother, Patrick, a leading eye surgeon, was one of the first people in the UK to ‘come out’ openly as gay, and to campaign to decriminalise homosexuality.

Trevor-Roper was appointed regius professor of modern history in 1957, entailing a move to the smaller Oriel college, from where he engineered a campaign to elect Harold Macmillan as university chancellor in 1960, and from where he continued his eclectic approach to historical studies. In 1979, Margaret Thatcher’s government made him a life peer, and he took the title Baron Dacre of Glanton. The following year, he stepped down from the regius chair to become master of Peterhouse, Cambridge.

Then, in the early 1980s, came the Hitler diaries affair. Richard Davenport-Hines, historian and author of Trevor-Roper’s entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (login required), says this: ‘[Trevor-Roper] had sacrificed some of his best energies to journalism; and the great calamity of his life, in 1983, arose from his involvement with the newspaper world.’ He had been a director of Times Newspapers for some years, and a regular contributor, when, in 1983, he was asked to fly to Switzerland to look at a stash of over 60 diaries, supposedly written by Hitler.

Trevor-Roper quickly authenticated the diaries, and his authentication of them was published in The Times just before The Sunday Times published the actual diaries. Soon after, the full extent of the fraud was uncovered. According to Davenport-Hines, Trevor-Roper developed sharp misgivings about the diaries almost immediately, but these doubts were not conveyed to The Sunday Times, and his reputation was ‘permanently besmirched’. Brian MacArthur, deputy editor of The Sunday Times at the time wrote in the Telegraph a few years ago that The Sunday Times recovered (it had published an apology the following Sunday), ‘but Trevor-Roper’s reputation never did’. (See also Fake diary debacles.)

Thereafter, Trevor-Roper continued to write and publish. He left Peterhouse in 1987, and nursed his wife who died in 1997, by which time he himself was suffering various ailments. He died in 2003. Further information is available from Wikipedia, or numerous obituaries (BBC, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The New York Times).

The (forged) Hitler diaries are not the only diaries Trevor-Roper deserves to be remembered for. When a young man, during the war, he kept diaries himself, though these were more a collection of private thoughts than a daily record. He kept these diaries secret from everyone, even his family and friends, and they were not discovered until after his death, when they were edited by Davenport-Hines and published by I. B Tauris in 2011 as The Wartime Journals. They show Trevor-Roper brimming with intellectual zest and plenty of controversial opinions.

The publisher’s blurb states: ‘As a British Intelligence Officer during World War II, Hugh Trevor-Roper was expressly forbidden from keeping a diary due to the sensitive and confidential nature of his work. However, he confided a record of his thoughts in a series of slender notebooks inscribed OHMS (On His Majesty’s Service). The Wartime Journals reveal the voice and experiences of Trevor-Roper, a war-time ‘backroom boy’ who spent most of the war engaged in highly-confidential intelligence work in England - including breaking the cipher code of the German secret service, the Abwehr. He became an expert in German resistance plots and after the war interrogated many of Hitler’s immediate circle, investigated Hitler’s death in the Berlin bunker and personally retrieved Hitler’s will from its secret hiding place. [. . . The journals] provide an unusual and privileged view of the Allied war effort against Nazi Germany. At the same time they offer an engaging - sometimes mischievous - and reflective study of both the human comedy and personal tragedy of wartime.’

The book was well reviewed - see The Telegraph, The Times - and much of it can be read freely online at Googlebooks or Amazon.

March 1942
‘The Secret Service: How can I describe it? A colony of coots in an unventilated backwater of bureaucracy? A bunch of dependant bumsuckers held together by neglect, like a cluster of bats in an unswept barn? O for a broom, I cry, to drive them twittering hence! But expostulating voices say, No! for it is a consecrated barn protected by ancient taboos. An so another image rises in my mind, of the high-priests of effete religion mumbling their meaningless ritual to avert a famine or stay a cataclysm. And then I remember the hieratic indolence of those self-inflated mandarins, their Chinese ideograms, their green ink, their oriental insincerities, their ceremonious evasions of responsibility, their insulation from the contemporary world, and the right image has come, of Palace eunuchs in the Great Within.’

April 1942
‘In general, women repel me. I discovered this truth sitting on top of a bus that was taking me down the Haymarket the other day. The contemplation of my female fellow-passengers made me shiver. ‘But they aren’t all like this’, I protested to myself, and I looked down into the street to make sure. Alas, they were no better; and in the restaurant, at lunch, I looked around me, and it was just the same. Without features, without grace, soft, shapeless lumps, like brown-paper parcels, or the wingless females of less interesting moths, they repel without fascinating. I put this to Stuart Hampshire. ‘They cumber the earth’, he said, and remarked on their ugly gait and soft complaisant grimaces; to which I added other details, their foolish birdlike minds, their twittering voices. But then I thought of those women whom I so like, who belie their sex by possessing features and understanding the art of growing old; aged dowagers with aquiline faces, who sit erect and stately in their high chairs, giving orders to their servants, and disapproving the low standards of the age in life, taste and manners - the three arts of which women may, without impertinence, be a judge.’

October 1944
‘If I had a religion (and I sometimes feel that I behave as if I were in search of one), I would be a pagan. For it is among meadows and hills, clear streams and woodland rides, that I find serenity of mind; in deep forests and dark caverns, among lonely crags and howling tempests that I feel the inadequacy of man; in the starry night and by the desolate seashore that the triviality of temporal existence oppresses or comforts me. If satyrs were one day to pop up and pipe to me among the Cheviot Hills; if a troop of nymphs were suddenly to rise with seductive gestures from a trout-pool in the Breamish; if dryads and hamadryads were to eye me furtively as I hunted the tangled thickets of Hell Copse or Waterberry Wood; I would not feel in the least surprised - I already half assume their presence their. But if God were to speak to me through the mouth of a clergyman, or to appear to me in any of the approved Christian attitudes, then indeed I would begin to ask questions.’

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Pirate hunting expedition

Dr Edward Hodges Cree was born 200 years ago today. He lived a colourful life, travelling across the world as a ship’s surgeon, and is remembered largely thanks to a journal which he kept from his very first day with the Royal Navy. It was published in the early 1980s, along with many of his own delightful illustrations and watercolours, and gives a vivid description of life at sea and navy actions in the Far East, not least against pirates.

Cree was born on 14 January 1814 in Devonport, Devon. His father was a mercer, then he turned to being a minister in the Unitarian church in Preston, then Bridport, before returning to his former profession. Edward studied medicine at Dublin and Edinburgh Universities, graduating from the latter in 1837. That same year he entered the Navy as assistant surgeon, and spent most of his working life at sea, including ten years in the Far East (1840-1850). At the end of that period, he took leave for a year, and travelled in Europe. In 1852, he married Eliza Tanner Hancock, daughter of family friends.

Thereafter he served in various ships, stationed at Lisbon, in the Baltic and in the Crimea, but from 1856 to 1860 he served in home waters. Various land-based positions followed, with occasional maritime appointments. He concluded his naval career as Deputy Inspector-General of Hospitals and Fleets at Portsmouth Dockyard, retiring in 1869, and taking up general practice in London. He and Eliza had seven sons, most of whom followed him into medical careers, and a daughter who became a nurse. Cree lived to see the new century, dying early in 1901, and was buried with his wife, who had died five years earlier, in Highgate Cemetery. A little more biographical information can be found at Royal Museum Greenwich (RMG), which holds an archive of Cree’s papers and sketches.

The Cree archive at RMG consists largely of 21 journals written between 1837 and 1861, comprising over a million words and 1,700 illustrations. According to RMG, ‘The journals account details of his sea voyages, experience whilst in foreign lands, his impressions of people and places, his recollections amongst family and friends and writings concerning his life at home and with his wife.’ In addition to the illustrated journals are ‘his “rough journals” 1841, 1847, 1849, 1851-1852 and 1854, his medical journal kept 1841-1847, journal notes (1837), sketchbook (1839), newspaper cuttings, service records and certificates and invitations.’

Michael Levien, a writer born in India but educated at Harrow, with a military career behind him, uncovered the journals, and edited them during the 1970s, working in the house of Cree’s descendant, Brigadier Hilary Cree. They were then published by the Exeter-based Webb and Bower in 1981 as The Cree Journals: The Voyages of Edward H Cree, Surgeon R. N., as Related in His Private Journals, 1837-1856. The book is lavishly illustrated with Cree’s illustrations, of life on board, of maritime scenes, of places he visited, of events and occasions. (The portrait above comes from the Cree One-Name Study website; but the painting below is one of the illustrations accompanying the diary, and is entitled Hurrah! for Canton.) Here are a few extracts from Cree’s diary as published in The Cree Journals.

24 February 1838
‘Fine morning with breeze from south. Passed Zembra early and afterwards inside the Canes Rocks signalled the Rhadamanthus with mails for Gibraltar. In afternoon we were between Galite and the African coast going 7 knots. The wind hot and sultry and a lurid glare spread under a bank of inky clouds in the west. The barometer was falling rapidly. The clouds gradually formed an arch across the sky and suddenly the squall came on most furiously, taking us aback. Fortunately we had not many sails set and these were soon furled. The wind increased in violence and we made no headway by all our steaming. A heavy swell was getting up from the west. At night the storm raged most furiously and the wind screeched amongst the rigging, the vivid lightning flashed and thunder rolled and heavy driving rain. The sea ran very high and the poor little Firefly rolled as if she would have gone over. The night was very dark and we were not far from the black rocks of Galite. It was a night of trouble and anxiety.’

1 March 1840
‘We have been getting on well till two days ago when we had a dead calm we lost our poor Corporal of Marines, Copperwhite, who died from acute rheumatism, which suddenly left his limbs and attacked his brain - delirium and coma ended in death. He was one of the best men in the ship, sober and obliging and hard-working. His body was committed to the deep this day.’

2 March 1840
‘Today at noon the sun was vertical. The weather pleasantly hot, therm. 86°. A couple of sharks about 9 feet long were caught, to the great delight of the ship’s company, who cut them up and cooked parts. I tasted a bit and thought it remarkably nice. The sailors liked it, but few of the soldiers and none of the women would touch it, as they thought of the poor Corporal of Marines.’

15 February 1845
‘Wilcox and I went on shore [Hong Kong] to call on some of the ladies. Had a long chat with Miss Hickson, who is a pretty, fresh complexioned Devonshire girl, jolly and good. We lunched with Pitcher [a tea-taster from the firm of Thomas Dent] and Dent [from the same firm], and then went to see an amateur Portuguese play, a vagabond place, but we were in mufti. We met there that donkey Paterson, Royal Artillery, with his wife, who is daughter of the sergeant. She is a pretty little girl and well behaved, but ignorant. The rest of the company were mostly Portuguese and policemen, and their “ladies”.’

9 August 1845
‘Weighed and proceeded into the Brunei River with the Admiral and a guard of honour consisting of 170 Marines &c., to return a visit from Badrudeen, a nephew of the Sultan of Brunei. We saw him as he passed yesterday in his boat, a long, low proa with eighteen paddles, a 4-pounder gun in the bow, red silk umbrella with green fringe, a large yellow ensign, with all the ragtag and bobtail of the place. Some of the nobs had on sku-blue jackets and yellow pyjamas, much like the worthies of Siak. The Agincourt saluted him with seven guns and the Admiral sent him back in the Nemesis steamer, which doubtless gratified his vanity much.’

22 September 1846
‘Returned to Honiton, and next day went on to Bridport. Stay at Mr John Hounsell’s, the dear old master [Cree’s tutor during his apprenticeship]. The same changes in the children here: Eliza, the eldest, grown into a pretty, clever girl of nineteen, well read and accomplished; Henry, the eldest boy, commenced medical studies at London University, and so nothing remains stationary. I had hosts of old friends to see at Bridport, which was a great pleasure, but some dear ones had gone to their last rest.’

3 October 1846
‘Left Bridport by the old four-horse coach “Forrester”, but in going down the hill into Winterbourn, one of the front wheels came off and we were overturned into the hedge, but no one was hurt, except a few scratches. We had to take a dogcart to Dorchester, getting to London at 9 p.m.’

6 October 1849
‘Coaling, preparatory to another pirate hunting expedition: this time to the west, where a large fleet of pirate vessels are said to be crusing, plundering junks trading to Hong Kong, and burning villages, &c. They are supposed to be in the neighbourhood of Hai-nan Island.’

8 October 1849
‘This pirate fleet is said to be a formidable one, commanded by an energetic Chinaman called Shap-‘ng-tsai, known to the Hong Kong people as a desperate robber. Embarked fifty Marines and fifty bluejackets, Captain Moore, [. . .]. At 9 a.m. left Hong Kong, taking steamer Phlegethon in tow, to save coals, with H. M. Brig Columbine, Captain J. Dalrymple Hay in command, as he is one day senior to Willcox. Looked into some of the numerous bays on the coast and anchored for the night at the small island Cow-kok.’

18 October 1849
‘5.30 weighed and made sail; rounded Go-to-shan Point. Noon, hove to in a pretty bay with sandy beach and fishing village, backed by wooded hills whose sides were cultivated with the sweet potato, a kind of convolvulus. The day was cloudy and pleasant, with a fresh breeze, and we enjoyed the sail along this beautiful coast lined with picturesque little islands. A high range of mountains of about 8,000 feet are seen far inland, lower ones near the coast, with serrated tops like enormous teeth.

On turning the point of another island the Columbine suddenly came on a fast boat, which Wang pronounced to be one of Shap-‘ng-tsai’s fleet. We immediately gave chase and all had long shots at her. She made all sail and got out her long sweeps and got away into shallow water, where we could not follow. The Phlegethon, which drew less water, followed her into the bay, putting some shots into her. She attempted a narrow passage between the islands, but seeing the steamer gaining fast upon her, ran her aground. All her crew escaped up the hill, which was covered with jungle, where a party of men searched in vain.

On returning to the junk she was found to stowed with smoke-balls, small arms and ammunition, and carried six guns, but no cargo, showing her character, so we set her on fire and she continued to blaze away all night on the beach.

We anchored here in the bay; it came on to blow and rain - a dirty night.’

23 October 1849
‘All the piratical fleet being destroyed except six, two large and two small junks, which escaped through some other branch of the river, we prepared to return to Hoy-how and Hong Kong.
Junks destroyed - 58; 6 escaped
Killed, Chinese pirates - estimated 1,700; escaped to the shore, to be captured, or killed, by the Tonquinese - 1,000
Prisoners - 49; women 8, children 6; most of the latter kidnapped from Hong Kong and the coast. (I fear there were many women destroyed in the junks, unfortunate prisoners of the pirates, who had been plundering and burning the villages along the coast.)
We received 40 prisoners from the mandarin at Chok-am, who had given themselves up to the natives. Forty guns taken are to be given to the Governor of Hoy-how.’

Monday, January 6, 2014

I must forget how to write

‘These days shall be my poems, these words what I leave behind as mine, my record up against time. It is all very sad that we have to fight it. Possibly I may come to love time and its taking of my days.’ This is John Wieners, an American beat poet, writing in his diary aged but 24. He would go on to become part of the poetic renaissance of the late 1950s and 60s. His poetry, some said, brought with it a new candour regarding sexual and drug-induced experiences.

Wieners was born on 6 January 1934, in Milton, Massachusetts. He studied at Boston College between 1950 and 1954, and then at Black Mountain College under the poets Charles Olson and Robert Duncan. He worked for a while as a stage manager/actor for the Poet’s Theater in Cambridge, and also began to edit the literary magazine Measure.

From 1958 to 1960 Wieners lived in San Francisco. He actively participated in the city’s so-called poetry renaissance, and he published The Hotel Wentley Poems. He returned to Boston in 1960, where he was committed to a psychiatric hospital for a time. In 1962-63, he lived in New York with Herbert Huncke, another poet, but again returned to Boston where he published his second book of poems, Ace of Pentacles.

Wieners enrolled in the graduate programme at the University of Buffalo, where he became a teaching fellow. After another period of institutionalisation, he moved to live in Joy Street, Boston, where he would remain; and he became more active politically, particularly against war and in support of the gay movement. In 1975, he published Behind the State Capitol or Cincinnati Pike, subtitled Cinema decoupages; verses, abbreviated prose insights, but produced little else after.

Wieners gave one of his last readings in 1999, at the Guggenheim Museum, celebrating an exhibit by the painter Francesco Clemente - the two of them having published Broken Women together. Wieners died in 2002. Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia, Tom Raworth’s website, The Poetry Foundation, Boston College Magazine, or the Electronic Poetry Center hosted by the University of Buffalo

In an obituary published by The Independent (available on Raworth’s website), John Ward summarised Wieners’ influence: ‘[He] was a key figure in the poetic renaissance of the late 1950s and 60s. In his work a new candour regarding sexual and drug-induced experience co-existed with both a jazz-related aesthetic of improvisation and a more traditional concern with lyric form.’

A few extracts from Wieners’ diaries were published while he was still alive, in 1996, by Sun & Moon Press, Los Angeles, under the title The Journal of John Wieners is to be called 707 Scott Street for Billie Holiday 1959. It starts with ‘Two Short Histories’ on ‘How This Book Came To Be’.  Lewis Warsh writes: ‘ln 1972, William Corbett and I visited John in his apartment at 44 Joy Street in Boston with the hope of getting poems from him for our new magazine (edited with Lee Harwood), The Boston Eagle. I remember John opening a trunk filled with ledger-sized journals with old-fashioned marble covers. “I’d love to read them someday,” I said, thinking out loud, but Wieners caught the genuine interest in my tone and presented one to me. [. . .]

When I was finished [transcribing] I had 77 manuscript pages, a book. On the inside cover of the ledger there was the title: 707 Scott Street, for Billie Holliday. I published a few pages of the journal in an issue of The World, the literary magazine of the Poetry Project (an issue devoted to autobiographical writing which I was guest-editing); then, for almost twenty years, the transcript of the journal disappeared. It was the interest of the poet Peter Gizzi who had heard that such a journal existed, that made me go searching for it. I never presented John with a finished copy of the transcript, though I do remember visiting him again and returning the original, not that it would have mattered (or so he led me to believe) whether I’d kept it or not.’

And in the other Short History, Fanny Howe writes: ‘In 707 Scott Street [Wieners] writes, “and if I cannot speak in poetry it is because poetry is reality to me, and not the poetry we read, but find revealed in the estates of being around us.” John’s poetry has always been the closest thing possible to a new form of speech, one that narrows the gap between longing and calling. These pages from the fifties live in that “estate” as much as his spoken words to others do now.

Estates of being exist as streets, seasons, people, songs and while the placement of his poetics could be cordoned off by a period in “the limbo of contemporary America that has passed - a poetics that predates post-modern rhetoric and the strange fixation with an Otherness that he would not recognise - his unembittered position as an “unknown” witness of the dispossessed is absolutely present across time.’

The Wikipedia entry on Wieners makes reference to two books which also contain extracts from his diaries: ‘Kidnap Notes Next, a collection of poems and journal entries edited by Jim Dunn, was published posthumously in 2002; and A Book of Prophecies (published in 2007 by Bootstrap Press) - ‘The manuscript was discovered in the Kent State University archive’s collection by poet Michael Carr. It was a journal written by Wieners in 1971, and opens with a poem titled 2007.’

Here are several entries from 707 Scott Street thanks to Green Integer (which evolved out of Sun & Moon Press) making the book freely available online as a pdf.

8 March 1958
‘The sun shines. Miss Kids is across asleep on the couch. She wakes and says “I dreamt I just put on...” I cant hear the rest. She goes back to sleep. Dana is asleep in the bedroom beside this one where the sun fills three windows. Miss Kids’ dark glasses sound/crack on the floor.

I must forget how to write. I must unlearn what has been taught me.

Last night I dreamed Alan appeared in a hallway where I leaned against a lintel; there were open doors on all sides and he presented me with a doll, his doll, the country one whose dress he ironed 3000 miles away. He was smiling, a great smile and I still see his white teeth and the black beard on his face. She was dressed in black, the doll, and her long thick hair was tied back the way I had left it. He had put it on top of one of those innumerable chests he had around his house. And I take it as a sign that all is well, I am and he is, today with the doll handed between us, he wanted me to have what he named was his. It is only Miss Kids and Dana who have hangovers. I must not let them hang me up.

She awakes again and asks “Is it cloudy outside yet?” I say “No” and an automobile horn busts our ears and the Chinese kids overhead beat and stomp on the floor.

These days shall be my poems, these words what I leave behind as mine, my record up against time. It is all very sad that we have to fight it. Possibly I may come to love time and its taking of my days.

“It well may be, I do not think I would.”

Right now, it is very fine. The cable car track shuttles in right inside the street and they empty the mail-box. A motor-scooter or motorcycle guns its motor and what bright flesh runs on Leavenworth Street. The 80 bus stops. Miss Kids has the Mohawk blanket that we (Dana and I) bought in the Morgan Memorial up to her eyes and her hair, her yellow hair is all over the pillow and her shut eye-lids. The cable car conductor rings the bell twice. It also stops. Only man and time move. And the space we are given to inhabit, so fast it is thru our fingers.

I must learn how not to write. I must watch with my 5 senses.

“the 5 perfections that are the 5 hindrances” and I must nail down those who would, all that would hang me up.

The 80 bus going the other way, to Market Street, sounds its squashed beep, peculiar to San Francisco, where they are afraid any loud noise would start another earthquake. And yet we all go around screaming.

There is not enough sound in the air. Miss Kids and Dana have headaches from last night.

I must stop being wise. Miss Kids wakes and says “Is it late?”

“Almost two.”

“Another day ruined.” She stretches her long wax arms (paraffin) on the mohair couch. “I feel fine now, Kids.” The sun puts gold on her nose. “Kids, they’re after me.” I tell her “Kids, you look like a fucked Alice-in-Wonderland. And your hands are swollen,”

She looks at them. “Dana did it.” ’

18 June 1958
‘Miss Lollipop is full of pain this morning. Her wing bone in the back. Her legs are black and blue. She ran her hands over me showing me where the pain is. We sat up all night listening to jazz and then at dawn, rock and roll. Her history as far as I know it consists of 8 arrests, 4 husbands. Her father was chief of the narcotics bureau in Sacramento. She lives in the Broadway Hotel with an Armenian piano player. She bends her neck as one of her boys rubs his hands into her. She wears a black bra. She does not complain.

Miss Lollipop has one of the most rare diseases known to medical history. A form of low grade bacteria that causes her shape to change every day. One day pregnant and full of gas, the next shapely. As she puts it, “I’ve had a lot of trouble with my insides.” ’

26 July 1958
‘On the road again. America does not change. Nor do we, Olson says. We only reveal more of ourselves. Riding in the car with all the windows open. How can I rise to the events of our lives. I am a shrew and nagging bitch as my mother was. I am filled with doubt and too passive. I go where I am told. Anywhere. Take pleasure in doing what I am told. There is no comfort in Nature or God except for the weak. It is my fellow men that deliver me my life. Otherwise I wrap up in myself like an evening primrose in the sun. Nature is good for analogy. We think we learn lessons from her but she deserts us at the moment of action. That is why we remain savages. Underneath. And our civilization remains a jungle. Live it at night and see.

But traveling on the road to Sausalito, San Francisco then Big Sur, I see how much the earth still surrounds us. Willow Road juts out in my memory. Mission San Rafael Archangel. Redwood Highway. Where man is going now, who knows. The earth no longer need be his home. Maybe this means the end of the old world. And man, on the minutest of planets may and can range thru all of space. To the very frontiers, limits, barriers of outer worlds. Lucky Drive. End construction project. With what frightening speed we move ahead. This must be necessary: Paradise Drive. The children are quieting down now. The witch drives her old Chevrolet, her long black hair blowing out the window.’