Monday, July 28, 2014

Sunset of rosy juices

Gerard Manley Hopkins, a Jesuit priest remembered largely for his innovative approach to writing poetry, was born 170 years ago today. He sometimes kept note-books, which, later in his life, became more like diaries. His diary entries are often dull (a few of them simply contain the one word, ‘Dull’!), though his daily obsession with describing the sky and the weather does lead him to wax rather lyrical. One sunset he describes, for example, as ‘of rosy juices and creams and combs.’

Hopkins, the oldest of nine children, was born on 28 July 1844, at Stratford near London into a high Anglican family. He was educated at Balliol College, Oxford, during the time of the Oxford Movement, and chose to enter the Roman Catholic church in 1866. Two years later, he became a Jesuit priest, and, famously, destroyed all the poems he had written up to that point. He spent the next years training at various Jesuit houses. It was not until 1875 that he began writing poetry again, inspired by a German ship - with nuns aboard - that sank in a storm. The Wreck of the Deutschland would become one of his most famous poems.

After being ordained in 1877, Hopkins worked with the poor in Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow, then studied some more in London, before teaching classics at Stonyhurst College, Lancashire. In 1884, he was elected fellow of the Royal University of Ireland, and lectured in Greek and Latin at University College, Dublin. He died, aged only 44, from typhoid fever in 1889, by which time he had not published any of his poems. It was only in 1918, that a first volume of Hopkins’s poems appeared, thanks to a friend, another poet, Robert Bridges. ‘His experimental explorations,’ Wikipedia summarises, ‘in prosody (especially sprung rhythm) and his use of imagery established him as a daring innovator in a period of largely traditional verse.’ Further information is also available from The Poetry Foundation, The Victorian Web, a New York Times book review, or The London Review of Books.

Hopkins’s papers were first edited by Humphrey House in 1937, and published by Oxford University Press in one volume - The Notebooks and Papers of Gerard Manley Hopkins. It contained a journal and selections from diaries and other writings. In 1947, three more journal note-books came to light; and, in 1952, after the death of Hopkins’s last surviving brother, further papers were found, all of which led Oxford University Press to consider a new and more comprehensive edition. Humphrey House was called on to put the new edition together, but then he died, and so the task of completing the book  - The Journals and Papers of Gerard Manley Hopkins - was given to Graham Storey. It was published in 1959, and contains one chapter of about 70 pages called ‘Early Diaries (1862-6)’, and another of about 130 pages called ‘Journal (1866-75)’. Other chapters contain Hopkins’s essays and lecture notes, as well as his drawings and music.

In the early note-books, Hopkins sketches out poems, shows a playful interest in words, and often describes the clouds and sky. Most of the entries are just notes, and few of them are dated. In the later years, his journal does become more diary-like, but his interest in the sky continues unabated with many a poetical turn of phrase about the weather.

2 August 1867
‘Dull and cold; before sunset the west opened in yellow from the earth-line upwards, with a sharp edge to the blanket of clouds; then bright sunlight scattered on the trees.’

17 August 1867
‘West wind, which I heard someone describe as ‘lumpy and rolling heavy’, with a little rain on it; otherwise fine; near sunset drifts of small graceful white-rose and scaly clouds.’

17 August 1868
‘Dark, soft, and wet.’

7 January 1868
‘Fine and freezing; snow at night.’

23 January 1868

23 December 1869
‘Yesterday morning I was dreaming I was with George Simcox and was considering how to get away in time to ring the bells here which as porter I had to ring (I was made porter on the 12th of the month, I think, and had the office for a little more than two months). I knew that I was dreaming and made this odd dilemma in my dream; either I am not really with Simcox and then it does not matter what I do, or if I am, waking will carry me off without my needing to do anything - and with this I was satisfied.’

24 September 1874
‘Very bright and clear. I was with Mr. Rickaby on the hill above the house. All the landscape had a beautiful liquid cast of blue. Many-coloured smokes in the valley, grey from the Denbigh lime-kiln, yellow and lurid from two kilns perhaps on the shoulders of a hill, blue from a bonfire, and so on.

Afterwards a lovely sunset of rosy juices and creams and combs; the combs I mean scattered floating bats or rafts or racks above, the creams, the strew and bed of the sunset, passing north and south or rather north only into grey marestail and brush along the horizon to the hills. Afterwards the rosy field of the sundown turned gold and the slips and creamings in it stood out like brands, with jots of purple. A sodden twilight over the valley and foreground all below, holding the corner-hung maroon-grey diamonds of ploughfields to one keeping but allowing a certain glare in the green of the near tufts of grass.’

The Diary Junction

Monday, July 21, 2014

London in Diaries

Last year, encouraged by a literary agent, I compiled a book called London in Diaries. Unfortunately, the agent moved on, and my subsequent efforts to find a publisher for the book came to no avail. Rather than let the work lie dormant, I am going to include, here in The Diary Review, the full text of the introduction, and, over the next few weeks, several of the chapters as well. Anyone interested in publishing London in Diaries please do get in touch!

London in Diaries: Introduction
London! One of the greatest capital cities in the world, one of the most important, one of the most visited, and one of the most cosmopolitan and dynamic. It is also a place of major historical sights, from the Tower of London to Hampton Court along the ever-restless Thames, and from St Paul’s Cathedral in the ancient City of London to the Abbey in the ancient City of Westminster. World-class entertainment is everywhere, not least in the West End and South Bank theatres; while glorious open spaces abound, whether in Regent’s Park, Kew Gardens or Hampstead Heath. Today London is as famous for the buzz of its night life, as it is for its high class shopping in Kensington, by way of Oxford Street, and Covent Garden, or for the financial power in its Square Mile. 

Of all the literary resources available to understand and, perhaps peer into, this astonishing city, its past and the lives of its people, none are as fresh or vital as diaries. Unique among historical and cultural records, they give a more immediate - in the moment - description of the city and commentary on its happenings than an autobiography or memoir. 

Diaries cannot, of course, be compared with histories which provide facts and figures in a coherent and comprehensive way, but they can highlight aspects of past times and ways, sometimes even shining a spotlight on lost charms or customs - Vauxhall Gardens, for example, or the spectacle of executions. This is especially true of the earliest diary extracts in this collection, for which some historical context is useful. The diarists - each chapter is focused on one - are arranged in a roughly chronological order, beginning with Edward VI in the mid 16th century.

It is a salient fact that those who live or have lived in the city, and thus could be expected to know it best, tend to be blind to its treasures when putting pen to their diary papers. Many of the 20th century writers considered to be great diarists have almost nothing to say about London - what seems to mark them out as good diarists is the political or social content, rather than any personal observations or descriptions about the place in which they live and work. 

Thus, throughout the five hundred years in which men and women have written diaries in London, those with the most detail of its famous and interesting sights are those written by visitors. So it is no surprise that their diaries make up a fair proportion of this book. Some of these are from elsewhere in Britain, but most are foreigners - early Continental travellers (such as Frederick of Mömpelgard and Lodewijck Huygens), diplomats (like the Persian Abul Hassan), and, more recently, North Americans (Herman Melville and Elizabeth Smart) - who are interested in, and often fascinated by, what they see and experience around them.

That said, it does fall to those living in London (such as the funeral provisioner Henry Machyn, Samuel Pepys, the painter Benjamin Haydon, or the teenager Ellen Buxton) to reveal much of interest about their city, and life therein, almost often in passing, by reporting daily routines, or noticing a special event or some change in the environment or society around them. The 20th century’s two world wars are an exception in that circumstances were so extraordinary that Londoners themselves (like the two journalists Malcolm Macdonagh and Charles Graves) did write far more expansively in diaries about the city itself and what was happening to it.

Another difference between diaries and other textual resources is that, though literary types are more likely to have kept diaries, literary talent has never been a fixed prerequisite for diary writing, nor either for preservation of diaries. The extracts herein not only evoke a kaleidoscopic view of the city across time and space, but do so from many different viewpoints - with contributions from royalty and commoners, rich and poor, merchants and artists, young and old. Indeed, though London is the focus, the raison d’être of this book, it is also about the people who have found themselves in the city, for one reason or another, and have bothered, again for whatever reason, to write about it, there and then. For this reason, each chapter opens with a short and pertinent biography for each diarist, helping to provide some context for the selection of extracts that follows. (Full details of their sources, as well as other published and online references, can be found at the back of the book.)

Historical background
London is around 2,000 years old, having originally been peopled by the Romans who called it Londinium, for no reason we can be sure of today. It became the capital of their British territory with a population rising to over 50,000, but was abandoned when they left. The Anglo-Saxons tentatively began settling in the area, adapting its name variously, to Lundenwic or Lundenburgh at different times. They built the first St Paul’s Cathedral, and, under repeated attack from Vikings, repaired the Roman walls for defence.

The Normans famously brought with them fortress know-how. On arriving in London, William the Conquerer immediately set about building a stronghold of wood. It was soon replaced by a much stronger structure, the White Tower or Tower of London. For centuries it protected the city, and for more centuries it became a foreboding symbol of power and punishment, though, surprisingly, it also housed exotic animals. Today, it’s for tourists who come to see the Beefeaters and the Crown Jewels.

Two miles west as the crow flies, or nearer three along the river, lies Westminster Abbey. Although the Anglo-Saxons had a place of worship on the site, as well as a palace close by, both were much rebuilt by the Normans. William the Conqueror was, according to documentation, the first King to be crowned in the Abbey, since when there have been 37 more coronations. For the next few hundred years, London and Westminster co-existed, uneasily at times, the former more of a centre of commerce with its evolving trade guilds and livery companies, and the latter the nation’s royal, religious and political centre. Although connected by a road called The Strand, traffic between the two cities was common via the Thames. William Caxton, it is worth a note in passing, set up his first printing press in Westminster, in 1476, before moving to London.

Henry VIII looms large in English history, and the impact of his break with Rome and Catholicism had a profound effect on London. Until the break, London life was dominated by religion, its churches, monasteries and religious houses. After the dissolution, though, in the 1530s, when much property changed hands, trade started to boom, not least through the business of new companies established by Royal Charters, like those wishing to trade with the Levant, and Muscovy.

The earliest diaries 
It is from this period - the 16th century - that we have today the first surviving diaries written in England. Japanese culture, though, produced the oldest texts generally classified as diaries, from the 9th century; and European - Italian mostly - diaries emerge in the 15th century. Perhaps the oldest English diary is that by Sir Richard Torkington, published in the 1880s as Ye Oldest Diarie of Englysshe Travell: being the narrative of the pilgrimage by Torkington to Jerusalem in 1517. The earliest bona fide diary that tells us anything about London was written a few decades later, and, astonishingly, it was kept by a teenager, none other than Henry VIII’s successor as King, Edward VI - sometimes dubbed the Boy King.

Having been crowned at the age of nine, Edward VI’s reign lasted only six years before he died, probably of TB. Historians believe the period of regency rule, led initially by Edward’s uncle, Edward Seymour, saw important developments in the English Reformation, though subsequently under Edward’s successor, the Catholic Mary, Protestant changes were stalled. Edward’s diary entries - written at the suggestion of a tutor - are usually succinct and often newsy. He writes about the coming of ‘the sweat’ into London, of visiting ambassadors being taken to watch the baiting of bears and bulls, and about the trial of his uncle. He also records a large protest against the ‘unreasonable prices of thinges’ in London, and that, unless the craftsmen mend their ways, he will ‘call in their liberties’ and appoint officers to look into the situation.

While Edward VI was still on the throne, a far humbler man - an undertaker and supplier of funeral trappings - was also starting to keep a diary, one that would, in time, ensure he was remembered (where otherwise he might not have been), and would, in fact, mark him out as one of the great early British diarists. Henry Machyn began his diary in 1550, describing - very colourfully - the rich funerals and processions of his business. Of Edward VI’s funeral he wrote: ‘And at his burying was the greatest moan made for him of his death as ever was heard or seen.’

But Machyn lived in turbulent and changing times, and before long, he found himself writing also about extraordinary public events - royal pageants, trials, and hangings (such as Seymour’s). He is the earliest writer to leave a description of the Lord Mayor’s show; and he also details several coronations and subsequent celebrations: ‘all the churches in London did ring, and at night did make bonfires and set tables in the street and did eat and drink and made merry for the new Queen Elizabeth.’

The first of the foreign diaries in this collection is by a young man, Frederick, soon to become the Duke of Württemberg, who visited London in 1592. His passion to become a Garter Knight is intriguing, as is the knowledge that he is an ancestor of the current Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Also, Shakespeare satirised him specifically and Germans in general in his play The Merry Wives of Windsor. Frederick’s diary has much to say about London - ‘a very populous city, so that one can scarcely pass along the streets, on account of the throng’ - and its women, who wear velvet even though they’ve no bread at home. And it is thanks to him - rather than Edward VI for example - that we have a first hand, at-the-time, description of the baiting of bulls and bears.

Revolution and restoration
More than half a century later, the Elizabethan period is long over, as are Guy Fawkes’ plot, the sailing of the Pilgrim Fathers for America, and the reign of James I. Charles I’s reign has brought religious strife and civil war, leading to his beheading and the defeat of his son in battle by Oliver Cromwell. It is 1652, when Lodewijck Huygens, a young Dutchman travels to London. Cromwell has not yet been named 1st Lord Protector of the Land, but the city is clearly a changed place. Huygens tells his diary about how he followed the route taken by Charles I from his home to his execution, and how St James’s Park was now full of Cromwell’s bucks and roes. While noting signs of decay in the city, he also mentions nearby villages, Clapham, Islington (famous for the good cakes) and Chelsea (a pleasant little village where the gentle class retire in summer).

Two diarists that today are considered among the best and most important that ever lived were both 17th century Londoners - Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn. They themselves were of very different characters, as shown in their diaries, but they were friends, and Evelyn was particularly attentive to Pepys when he fell out of favour for a short while and was imprisoned in the Tower.

‘A wonder what will be the fashion after the plague is done, as to periwiggs, for nobody will dare to buy any haire, for fear of the infection.’ This is Samuel Pepys who, as a young man, was appointed to the Navy Board, and soon showed precocious talent, eventually rising to become Chief Secretary to the Admiralty. He met and conversed with Charles II on the vessel that brought him back from exile in May 1660. Earlier that same year, Pepys had begun to write a diary. For ten years, he wrote with great detail, intelligence and flair about his life, and in doing so could not help but paint a portrait of the city in which he lived and in which he was such an important personage, and provide an extraordinary record of the Restoration period. His diary is also hugely important for its descriptions of how the plague and the Great Fire devastated London, and these entries make up the bulk of his contribution here. The diary, though, is full to bursting with his myriad daily movements, whether concerned with family, politicking, theatre or philandering, and with a wide interest in everything going on around him.

John Evelyn’s diary is a more sober, largely less personal, work. His entries are often brief and factual, though when his son Richard dies aged 5, he writes for several pages about the precocious boy’s achievements and concludes with ‘Here ends the joy of my life, and for which I go even mourning to the grave.’ But what Evelyn generally lacks in colour and depth, he makes up for with perseverance: his diary, starting in 1641, goes on for over 60 years, encompassing more than half a century of London’s history. He was involved in the planning and rebuilding of London after the Great Fire, and his diary shows an interest in development of new squares, houses and gardens: ‘Dined at my Lord Treasurer’s, the Earl of Southampton, in Bloomsbury, where he was building a noble square or piazza, a little town.’

Dudley Ryder, by contrast to Evelyn and Pepys, is far less well known. He was the son of a Hackney draper, but studied law, entered politics, and ended up Attorney General. His diary, 1715-1716, gives a lively account of London’s coffee houses and spas, as well as its executions. His florid description of a frozen Thames seems reminiscent of much more recent literature.

The 18th century - most of it under the rule of one King George or another, the so-called Georgian Period - was a time of unprecedented growth for London, with its population more or less doubling. In 1700, Hugh Clout’s History of London suggests, an observer in the dome gallery of St Paul’s could have seen London in its entirety, with fields, farms and hill-top villages (Hampstead and Highgate) in the distance. By the early 1800s the edges of London would have been far more difficult to discern, since the built-up area was twice as large, ribbons of development had sprung up along transport routes, and many a remaining field was marked out for building. Smog from coal burning was also starting to be a major problem affecting visibility, and, presumably, health. Despite a fast growing and affluent middle class, this London was still a fairly dark, primitive and unsanitary place, without main drains, water supply, lighting, or public transport, fire or police services. Crime and prostitution were rife. Given the ongoing high death rate, the city’s rapid expansion was driven largely by immigration from elsewhere in Britain.

Indeed, around the middle of the century, in 1762, one young Scottish man, as precocious as Pepys and as literate, arrived in the city. Shortly after settling down, he writes in his diary, ‘It is very curious to think that I have now been in London several weeks without ever enjoying the delightful sex, although I am surrounded with numbers of free-hearted ladies of all kinds.’ This is James Boswell who would go on to write one of the world’s most admired biographies, that of his friend Samuel Johnson. The biography came after Boswell had published an earlier book about Johnson, a diary of their travels together in the Hebrides, which was a commercial success. Intriguingly, all of Boswell’s diaries, with the exception of the Hebrides journal, remained lost, and were only discovered in the 1920s in a Dublin castle. Yale University published a first volume of these in 1950 - Boswell’s London Journal - and since then has brought out a dozen or so more.

What visitors saw
Until the 19th century, women writers (that we know of today) are a rarity - that said, The Book of Margery Kempe written in the early 15th century is considered to be the first autobiography in the English language. There are very few surviving diaries written by women prior to the 1800s. The earliest of these - by Margaret Hoby, Anne Clifford and Elizabeth Freke - are important, but have little to offer in the context of a book about London. Thus it falls to a German visitor, Sophie von La Roche, a novelist, to give the earliest female perspective on London in this collection. With a curious mind and an observant eye, she writes about everything she sees and experiences - not least, a pastry-cook’s shop, a Moorish funeral, the ‘hateful’ Tower, outdoor dancing at Sadler’s Wells, the inside of a master saddlers’ workshop, and the need to eat oysters because she is in London.

Abul Hassan came to London in 1809, and was the first Persian envoy to do so in 200 years. He was tall, dark and handsome, wore rich silken robes, and had a very large beard. During his eight months stay he became something of a society celebrity - even the royal family gave parties in his honour. His diary, though somewhat formal, is rich in detail about the city. It also has an intriguing naive quality in that much of what he saw was very different from his familiar Persian world, as in this extract written after he’d seen some rioting in the streets: ‘I was utterly amazed! If such a situation had lasted for several days in one of Iran’s cities, 2,000 or more people would have been executed by now.’

Early 19th century London certainly made a deep impression on another visitor, this time a young man from Sheffield who, at the end of his visit, waxed lyrical: ‘And now, London, I must bid thee “Farewell.” Thou art the centre of Good and Evil, of Virtue and Vice! How many and how various are the characters which inhabit thy walls! How magnificent thy palaces! How mean thy cottages! How miserable some, how happy others!’ Thomas Asline Ward might have been completely forgotten today, but for the fact that his diary was published in a local paper in instalments, and then in book form. His visit to London only takes up a small part of the published diary, but his youthful descriptions, especially of the once-famous Vauxhall Gardens, are alight with city excitement.

Anne Chalmers was a little younger than Ward on her visit to London, three decades later, but her enthusiasm for the city has a more serious edge. She visits ‘the ventilator’, in the House of Commons, where ladies can hear the speakers, and attends an anti-slavery rally. Her diary, like Ward’s, reminds us of places now long forgotten, such as the Colosseum, near Regent’s Park, built to house the world’s largest painting, and also, incidentally, gives advice to those asking for beer in London.

Benjamin Haydon, like Boswell before him, was a man who needed female company, and saw London as a city of opportunities: ‘I felt this morning an almost irresistible inclination to go down to Greenwich and have [a] delicious tumble with the Girls over the hills.’ He was a painter with a significant talent, but his allegiance to 18th century trends, especially historical subjects, meant he was swimming against the Romantic tide, one which would make household names of William Blake and J. M. W. Turner. Chronic financial difficulties compounded his artistic frustrations, and he rarely managed to live within his means, especially after he had married and had children. His story is a sad one, but his characterful diary - initially published in five volumes - is superb because it not only tells us much about the man, but also gives picturesque insights into city life, whether the art and literary scene, or the trials of a day out with his family.

Riches and poverty
Whereas London had already seen rapid expansion for centuries, the 1800s saw explosive growth, with the city’s population increasing from, very approximately, one million at the start of the century to more than six times that at the end. By the 1830s, it was considered to be the largest city in the world in terms of population (a ranking it retained until the 1920s), and was the centre of a global empire, the world’s foremost trading and financial powerhouse. The wealth financed all kinds of changes, the building of suburbs, the construction of railways, sewers, water systems, schools. But it was also a magnet for immigration not only from other parts of Britain, but from the Empire; and this immigration only served to enhance the rich-poor divide, and the presence of slums - as so well depicted in the novels of Charles Dickens.

Any hint of London slums or the poverty therein is not to be found in Queen Victoria’s diaries. She ascended the throne aged only 18, and remained sovereign for over 60 years. For much of this time, she kept a diary, contained in over 100 manuscript volumes, extracts of which have been published. In reference to London, her diary is at its best when she writes about big occasions - her coronation, the Great Exhibition and jubilee celebrations. Although formal in style, it is splendid to have such a person, such a celebrity at the centre of the nation’s attention, telling us what her day has been like.

Herman Melville visited London in 1849 to try and find a publisher for his new book White-Jacket, about the American naval service and, in particular, the ills of flogging. Although his most famous novel, Moby Dick, would follow in 1852, he was already a well-known author. Melville spent a lot of time in and around The Strand, where he loved exploring the second-hand bookshops. Not one to mince his words he wrote in his diary that the Lord Mayor’s Show was a ‘most bloated pomp’, and described a coffee he bought in a Temple bar as ‘villainous’. He was, though, excited by the public execution of the husband and wife murderers, the Mannings, an event that Dickens also attended.

A simpler, more charming view of Victorian London comes from the teenager, Ellen Buxton, brought up in Leytonstone, by Wanstead Flats, just south of Epping Forest. Her father worked at the family brewery in Spitalfields; but both her grandfathers were important Quaker characters, one a noted anti-slavery campaigner, and the other brother to the prison reformer, Elizabeth Fry. Ellen’s teenage diary is unaffected, and illustrated throughout with delightful sketches of people and places. Though short on emotion, the writing comes alive when she’s outdoors, watching Prince Albert lay a foundation stone, fishing with her father in Carshalton, or visiting an institution such as the Mint or the ‘Christal Palace’ rose exhibition.

The beautiful Thames
The feature of London most often mentioned in these diaries - in all but a handful - is the Thames. Throughout the city’s history, of course, it was far more important, far more busy than it is today. Apart from Ryder’s florid description of the frozen river, another diarist describes a frost market, the kind that regularly appeared when the water froze. Others mention a watermill that supplied water, a pub landlady drowning herself, the burning of a bankside warehouse, and the mighty disturbance of the water after the falling of bombs.

Of all the writers in this collection, though, it is Thomas Cobden-Sanderson whose diary shows the most romantic relationship with the river. ‘How superbly beautiful the river is at this moment! There is a high wind blowing the surface into innumerable ripples, each of which catches instantly and reflects a dazzling gleam from the sun.’ A book-binder, printer, and close associate of William Morris, he operated his business close by the Thames in Hammersmith. Towards the end of his life, he was so troubled by the idea that, after his death, his partner would misuse a special typeface they had together employed for years - Doves Type - that he secretly went night after night to a river bridge to drop and drown every last block of the type. He confesses all to his exquisitely written diary.

Cobden-Sanderson was very much a socialist, in keeping with the ideology of Morris’s Arts and Crafts Movement. Indeed, his wife was imprisoned as a suffragette at one time. Yet his diary, perhaps, reveals him as more of a spiritual than a political man. Not so another socialist, the Northern writer Arnold Bennett. Both Cobden-Sanderson and Bennett take us into the 20th century, but Bennett’s diary is far punchier, richer in detail about what’s happening in the streets of London. ‘Never since I first came to London,’ he writes in 1897, ‘has the West End been so crowded with sightseers, so congested by the business of pleasure.’ Though his novels, full of gritty realism, had gone out of fashion by the 1920s his literary journalism was much sought after, and his diaries by that time were full of famous London names.

The 20th century and wars
‘I want to see the Docks and Dockland, to enter East End public-houses and opium-dens, to speak to Chinamen and Lascars: I want a first-rate, first-hand knowledge of London, of London men, London women. I was tingling with anticipation yesterday and then I grew tired and fretful and morose, crawled back like a weevil into my nut.’ This is Bruce Frederick Cummings, better known as Barbellion and only remembered today because of his unique diary - published as The Journal of a Disappointed Man. He worked in the British Museum’s department of Natural History, but died very young of multiple sclerosis. His diary displays an extraordinary mind, sharp yet often frustrated with himself or the world around him. It is also funny, as when he describes a morning at Petticoat Lane market.

The First World War affected the life of everyone in London, not least Cobden-Sanderson, Bennett and Barbellion, though often their diary references to it are in passing. Michael Macdonagh, by contrast, kept a diary that was almost entirely about the war and the affect it was having on London and its people. Macdonagh was a journalist with The Times, and thus writing publicly about London news, yet his diary is a far more personal testimony to, what he called, ‘the drama of the life of the greatest civil community of the world in its direct relation to the Great War’. Not only is Macdonagh present for important political events, in Parliament or at the Lord Mayor’s banquet for example, but he is out tramping the street every day reporting faithfully in his diary what he sees, hears and feels. At the war’s end, he is in Parliament Square: ‘I had heard Big Ben proclaim War’ and after four years of silence, ‘I was now to hear him welcoming Peace.’

The Canadian writer Elizabeth Smart is best remembered for her novel of poetic prose - considered a classic of the genre - By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. The book draws heavily on the passionate affair she had with the British poet George Barker. In 1943, by when she already had two children by Barker, she moved to live in London; there she had two more children fathered by him, but brought them all up alone, as a single mother. Two volumes of her diaries were published shortly after her death in the 1980s, and these reveal how her style deteriorated over the decades: from bright, cheerful, extravagant writing, full of external observations, to brief notes focused on her internal preoccupations. Thus, though, she was living in London, there is very little about the city in her later diaries. However, her early ones, when she was still travelling and passed through London, contain lovely, evocative passages about the city, such as one about Hyde Park which begins as follows: ‘I did the only right and inevitable thing to do when the sky is singingly blue and the sun is showing up the nakedness of London and everything is sunshining and smelling of new-forgotten damp earth and crocuses - I went out.’

All too soon after the terrible first war, came another, and with it Britain’s militarisation to defend against German aggression. The country - but especially its capital - suffered more years of bombing, rationing and general hardship. There are many published diaries specifically about the Second World War, and even today, more than 65 years later, newly found or edited war diaries are popular publishing ventures. Only a small proportion of WW2 diaries, though, have much to say about London itself. In addition, there are many unpublished diaries, not least those held by Mass Observation, and those archived by the BBC for its WW2 People’s War website.

Two Second World War diaries are included in this collection, one published, though not very well known, and one unpublished, from the Mass Observation archive. Charles Graves, like Michael Macdonagh, was a journalist, more of a columnist than a reporter, and he moved in higher social circles than Macdonagh, but he too decided to keep a personal diary, with publication in mind, of the war years. An early entry reads: ‘As I lay in bed it occurred to me that the Londoner’s ears are now accustomed to distinguish immediately sixteen different noises caused by the blitz;’ and then he lists them. Against official orders, which expressively prohibited Home Guard personnel from keeping diaries, he wrote often about his own Home Guard activities - ‘My mob were supposed to be German parachutists landing in Regent’s Park’. And, Graves didn’t let his work or volunteering stop him from flitting to The Ritz or a cricket match at Lords.

Responding to Mass Observation’s call for volunteers to provide diaries and other written material about the war, Marielle Bennett submitted a series of manuscripts covering various months of 1939, 1941 and 1942. These typed diaries reveal a more mundane life, perhaps, than that lived by Graves, but no less interesting for that. On reading her diary, one feels very close to Bennett, as though one is there with her making curtains out of black satin, hearing Chamberlain’s speech through a window on a neighbour’s wireless, noticing how little meat one gets with a 1/6 luncheon at Maison Lyons, having great trouble finding an air-raid suit she likes, and being frustrated that she no longer wants to go to the cinema because all the films are ‘only slightly covered propaganda’.

The 1960s and modern nature
Noel Coward, born in the last years of Queen Victoria’s reign in Teddington, was one of the greatest show business personalities of the 20th century. His playwriting and performing fame grew steadily in London during and after the First World War, and before long he was as popular in New York as in London. His published diaries only begin in the 1940s, and cover all the years to his death in 1973. Though his popularity in London waxed and waned, by the post-war years he was still putting on highly successful West End hits, and starring in films such as Around the World in 80 Days and Our Man in Havana. His diaries reveal a constantly hectic schedule with London home only for a few weeks or so once or twice a year. Nevertheless, a few extracts give a grand sense of the London theatre world, such as when he is describing a night at the Palladium, or hobnobbing with royalty.

It is the start of the 1960s, and Kate Paul is just out of her teens and excited about life and art and going to live in London. ‘In Chelsea,’ she writes, ‘it’s the vogue to wear dark glasses at the dead of night and to shave the head bald.’ She loves the city’s galleries, and spends a lot of time at the Troubadour cafe in Earls Court, a London institution for decades (though not of Palladium grandeur). But reality doesn’t take long to set in, and her self-published diary soon reveals dissatisfaction and depression, often caused by her work, flat-mates or boyfriends. She feeds her depression by reading Barbellion’s diary, and goes so far as to seek out some presence of him at the Natural History Museum.

‘Sunlit cool autumnal day. Writing this diary on my way to St Mary’s in a taxi that cruises down Oxford Street alongside a lovely lad on a bike. Today London is a joy.’ This is the extraordinary film-maker Derek Jarman who, having been diagnosed with HIV in the mid-1980s, moved to live on shingle flats near the coast in Kent, and also began keeping a diary of his daily life. A first volume - Modern Nature - was published while he was still alive, and is very readable, full of wistful recollections about his youth and 60s London. Though still drawn back to the city often enough, at this time, for work or pleasure (the above quote is the last extract in Modern Nature), he is disillusioned with the film world, and is finding more fulfilment in his garden and the natural world around him in Kent.

Finally, as a way of bookending this journey through London in Diaries, I am including extracts from my own diary, all chosen for giving at least a flavour of the London in which I was growing up and maturing as an adult. Although I no longer live in the city, it has been home for at least half my life; and I was born in the long-since closed New End Hospital, Hampstead. My diary-writing habit, of nearly 50 years, began with a five-year diary given me for Christmas in 1962. I was ten, and living in a flat on Fitzjohns Avenue (mentioned by Marielle Bennett in her diary). The following summer, my parents moved out of London, and I didn’t return as a resident until I’d finished university. Chance found me renting a room in Earl’s Court, drinking coffee in the Troubadour (like Kate Paul), and, after much travelling, returning to live in Kilburn, near enough Hampstead to explore and enjoy the Heath (though in very different ways from Derek Jarman). Also in my diaries are London markets, theatres, squats, carnivals, bingo halls, and stories of clowning antics. The last diary extract of all describes Millennium New Year’s Eve and Day when my 12 year old son, Adam, and I endeavoured to walk the streets of central London and shake hands with a thousand people - we called it ‘The Day of the Thousand Handshakes’.

Thus, this collage or kaleidoscope of London through time and space, is uniquely patterned and coloured by the internal voices of those living in, or just passing through, its fascinating history and culture.