Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Boglice round the neck

‘At the Crown, Sir Christopher told of killing the wormes with burnt oyle (elsewhere mentiond) and of curing his Lady of a thrush by hanging a bag of live boglice about her neck.’ This is a short extract from the diary of the remarkable polymath, Robert Hooke, born 380 years ago today. He was a scientist, philosopher, architect and inventor, distinguishing himself in many fields. He served as curator of experiments of the Royal Society and was a surveyor to the City of London after the Great Fire, helping his friend Sir Christopher Wren to rebuild St Paul’s Cathedral. For a decade or so, he kept a diary, which is a rich, dense record of that period in his life. In it are mentioned hundreds of taverns and coffee houses where he had meetings, and the names of thousands of people with whom he came into contact. He also describes, in passing, inventions, innovations, discoveries, and potential medical cures (such as Wren’s cure for thrush!).

Hooke was born on 28 July 1635 (18 July Old Style) at Freshwater on the Isle of Wight, the son of a churchman. He was educated at Westminster School and, thanks to a scholarship, at Christ Church, Oxford. He worked as an assistant for the scientist Robert Boyle between 1657 and 1662, and then became curator of experiments at the Royal Society. In 1663, he was made a fellow of the Society. In this mid-1660s period he was lecturing on subjects such as mechanics and geometry, and publishing books such as Micrographia with elaborate drawings of objects viewed through a microscope, and Cometa on the nature of comets.

After the great fire in 1666, Hooke was appointed one of three surveyors of London to supervise rebuilding works, and he himself designed some new buildings, such as Bethlehem Hospital. He was great friends with Christopher Wren, and they collaborated often, for example, on St Paul’s Cathedral, whose dome uses a method of construction conceived by Hooke. In the 1670s, Hooke seems to have been at odds with other scientists, including Newton and Huygens; and he and the Royal Society were the subject of Shadwell’s satirical play The Virtuoso. In 1677, Hooke took over as secretary of the Society. The following year he published Lectures De Potentia Bestitutiva or Of Spring, which described the law of elasticity, later known as Hooke’s Law. He was also responsible for a variety of other important scientific understandings, including phenomenon of diffraction.

In the 1680s, Hooke was involved in a further dispute with Newton over the latter’s Principia which was published without any recognition of Hooke’s contribution to the theories on planetary motions. Hooke never married, but he did have mistresses, including his niece whom he had cared for since she was 11. (In fact, Hooke recorded his sexual activity in the diary - see Felicity Henderson’s blog post for more on this. ) Hooke died in 1703. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Royal Museums Greenwich, Westminster School’s Robert Hooke website, Felicity Henderson’s blog on Hooke, Rob Martin’s Isle of Wight pages, City of London website, or UCMP’s page on Hooke.

Robert Hooke began keeping a journal (or memorandum book) on 10 March 1672, and continued until May 1683. It’s considered the most important record of Hooke’s life, and is held by Guildhall Library, London. The manuscript was transcribed and published by Henry W. Robinson and Walter Adams as The Diary of Robert Hooke (Taylor & Francis, 1935). The editors explain that the diary has a somewhat tortuous (and partly unknown) history.

For most of the first year, the entries are mainly concerned with the weather, but these give way to more general entries recording notable events and the author’s own activities. Each entry becomes, in fact, a dense record of Hooke’s movements and meetings, often difficult to interpret without further contextual information. By 1679, his stamina in recording the busy days begins to wane, and the entries become noticeably shorter, sometimes just one or two lines. The entry for Monday 28 June 1680, for example, reads: ‘Spent most of my time in considering all matters.’ The editors note that the diary is replete with chaotic punctuation (a full stop after every two or three words, as if, they add, Hooke had rested his pen on the paper while thinking up the next words to write).

Well over 100 taverns and coffee houses are mentioned in the published version of Hooke’s diary, all listed at the back; and there is also a biographical index with around 2,000 names. Dr Felicity Henderson, of Exeter University, who is currently editing the diary for a new edition to be published by Oxford University Press, has already made available, with the Royal Society, an annotated collection of Hooke’s diary entries which were omitted from the Robinson/Adams edition, i.e. from March to July 1672 and from January 1681 to May 1683.

Here are several samples of Hooke’s diary style, taken from the 1935 publication.

18 May 1675
‘At Sir J. Mores. Player and Oliver Dogs. at Holburne conduit. - in quest of Sir Chr: Wren at Lords house. Mr. Colwall walked with Titus. Gave Grace chocolatt. Discoursed with Sir Chr: Wren. Noe money but to contribute towards his losse by wells and account. Dind with Boyl. Walkd with Scarborough in the park. Met with Montacue. Told Sir Christopher my Longitude inventions. Met the King in the Park. he shewd watch, affirmed it very good.’

25 May 1675
‘At Dr. Busbys. With the King and shewd my watch with a magnet with which he was well pleased and Invited me to come to him. Dind at Busbys. At Dr. Hameys £10. At Dr. Whitakers. Fine children. Mayer and his wife at Storys. Went home. Severall Disputes with Tompion urged him forward with watch - the rest of the week I forgot but I received the Double pendulum Sea clock and had a box made by Coffin for it, I hung it by strings. I shewd it Tompion upon Sunday when I drank Dulwich water. And upon Monday I went to the King. I was introduced by Colonel Titus. The King very well pleased I knew not what to ask. He went into his closet. Tompion and Harry with me I shewd it Sir Chr. Wren. Sir Chr. Wren unwilling to let me have any money though Woodroof had £50, unwilling I should have any room in Gallery at Whitehall, would have thrust me into the park.’

17 June 1675
‘At Mr. Montacues and at the ground with Mr. Russell and Montacue. Noe councell. Society Read Dr. Grew. Outlandish physitian. Oldenburg a Rascall. I propounded my theory about the digestion of liquors, about Putrefaction, about the parts of Liquors working one upon another etc. Received from Brounker order for receiving from Chest. Received it from Collonel Richards. Received also Hay Grains his bowle of silver from him. Gave J. Clay 5 shill.’

23 August 1675
‘R. Smith here about Dr. Hamey. With Andrews to Sir Ch. Wren about sand and rubble for Paules. Delivered back to Martin, Simsons book and Hobbs de mirabilibus Pecci. With Sir Ch: Wren to Lord Mayors to Bedlam. To Physicians Colledge. To Paules wharf. Coles at Hearnes. At Mrs. Mayors. Heard of Bloodworth’s sicknesse at Garaways.’

16 August 1677
‘Smart here about Hold, a note to be at East India house tomorrow. To founders in Bedlam for 2 ballances. Sent Tom to Scowen. At Sir Chr. Wrens. Passd Mr. Marshalls bill for Coleman street. Dind with Marshall and Oliver. to Rowlisons at Miter. At Home, Henshaw, Hoskins, Hill, Hawk, Whistler, Aubery. At the Crown, Sir Christopher told of killing the wormes with burnt oyle (elsewhere mentiond) and of curing his Lady of a thrush by hanging a bag of live boglice about her neck. Discoursed about theory of the Moon which I explained. Sir Christopher told his way of solving Keplers problem by the Cycloeid.’

10 August 1678
‘Received a note from Tillotson to Direct masons at Paules, the Bishop of Londons kindnesse. Directed Lamb about universall map. Calld at Lever Pits to fetch back a bad globe. at Gerrards, Goldsmith at Holburn bridge, Bloomsberry, Sir Ch. Wrens, to Paules. at Childs with Sir Ch. Wren, told him my designes of mapps, my equation of springs. took of Pit book of Education 2sh., borrowd Sansoms 43 mapps. Haak here. Grace bound Bocconi and Oughtred. Began introduction to Atlas from Lamb 4 sheets of the North Col. hemisphere. ill and melancholy.’

The Diary Junction

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Wall Street palpitating

It is 140 years today since the death of George Templeton Strong, a New York lawyer remembered for his remarkable diary, which provides a near-daily description, a living history, of his city during the mid-19th century. He was as keen on writing about fire emergencies, financial panic (‘Wall Street has been palpitating uneasily all day’), and riots in the streets as he was about the nuisance of organ-grinders outside his house. Some say Strong’s is the greatest American diary in the nineteenth century.

Strong was born in his father’s house in Manhattan in 1820, and was educated at Columbia College. He trained as a lawyer, and joined his father’s firm, practicing as a real estate attorney. He married Ellen Ruggles in 1848, both of them keen amateur musicians, and moved into a house near Gramercy Park. They had one son (also George, but not born until 1856), who became a composer and painter and spent most of his adult life in Europe.

In the 1860s, and through the Civil War, Strong took on various public service roles, serving on the executive committee of the Sanitary Commission (a precursor of the American Red Cross), helping found the Union League Club of New York, and acting as a trustee of Columbia College. He was also a vestryman at Trinity Episcopal Church, and, from 1870 to 1874, president of the New York Philharmonic. He died relatively young, on 21 July 1875. A little further biographical information is available at Greenwich Village History, Mr Lincoln and New York, or Wikipedia.

Strong is mostly remembered for the daily diary he kept from the age of fifteen and for the next 40 years - amounting to some four million words. The manuscript diaries are held by the New-York Historical Society, and have been edited twice for publication. The first time was by Allan Nevins and Milton Halsey Thomas (four volumes, Macmillan, 1952). This version was abridged into one volume in 1988 for publication by University of Washington Press. According to Nevins: ‘Strong was an artist who was consciously trying to render his own city, his own time, his own personality in such form that later generations could comprehend them.’ The diaries were also edited by Vera Brodsky Lawrence for her three volumes: Strong on Music: The New York Music Scene in the Days of George Templeton Strong (University of Chicago Press, 1988-1999).

A few extracts
from Strong’s diary (taken from the originals at the New-York Historical Society) can be found online at The New York TimesOther extracts (taken from the Nevins/Thomas volumes) can be found at Googlebooks in The Civil War - The Third Year Told By Those Who Lived It, edited by Brooks D Simpson; and in Writing New York - a literary anthology, edited by Phillip Lopate. Lopate says Strong’s diary is ‘the greatest American diary in the nineteenth century’, remarkable not only for its length but for ‘the flavoursome precision of the writing’.

Here are several extracts culled from Writing New York.

23 November 1851
‘Fearful calamity at a public school in Ninth Ward Thursday afternoon, a false alarm of fire, a panic, a stampede downstairs of 1,800 children, and near fifty killed on the spot and many more wounded - a massacre of the innocents. The stair banisters gave way, and the children fell into the square well round which the stairs wound, where the heap of killed and wounded lay for hours before help could reach them. The doors opened inwards. The bodies were piled up to the top of the doors; they did not dare burst them open and had to cut them slowly away with knives.’

5 July 1852
‘Have been at home all day writing. Tonight went on the roof awhile. It’s a beautiful sight the city presents. In every direction one incessant sparkle of fire balls, rockets, roman candles, and stars of all colors shooting thick into the air and disappearing for miles around, with now and then a glare of coloured light coming out in some neighbourhood where fireworks on a large scale are going off. A foreigner would put it in his book of travels as one of the marvels of New York, and compare it to a swarm of tropical fireflies gleaming in and out through a Brazilian forest.’

23 November 1855
‘I must ascertain whether the mighty bug-destroyer Lyons has no modification of his cockroach powder that will exterminate organ-grinders. We suffer peculiarly here, for the street is very quiet, and they play all round the square before they leave it and are more or less audible at each successive station. I have been undergoing the performances of one of the tribe for an hour and a half and have heard “Casta Diva,” “Ah, Non Giunge,” the first chorus of Ernani, and some platitude from the Trovatore languidly ground out six times each. It makes me feel homicidal. If Abel had gone about with hand organs, I shouldn’t censure Cain so very harshly. There goes “Casta Diva” for the seventh time!’

14 October 1857
‘We have burst. All the banks declined paying specie this morning, with the ridiculous exception of the Chemical, which is a little private shaving-shop of the Joneses with no depositors but its own stockholders.

Wall Street has been palpitating uneasily all day, but the first effect of the suspension is, of course, to make men breathe more freely. A special session is confidently expected, and the meeting of merchants at the Exchange at 3:30 P.M. appointed a committee that has gone to Albany to lay the case before Governor King. He ought to decline interference, but were I in his place I dare say my virtue would give way.

My great anxiety has been for the savings banks. Saw the officers of the two in which I feel a special interest (the Bleecker Street and Seaman’s). Both were suicidally paying specie and thus inviting depositors to come forward to get the gold they could get nowhere else and could sell at a premium. The latter changes from specie to bills tomorrow; the former did so this afternoon. All the savings banks are to do so tomorrow. The run has been very formidable; some say not so severe as it was yesterday, but bad enough. I think they will get through.’

14 July 1863
‘Eleven P.M. Fire bells clanking, as they have clanked at intervals through the evening. Plenty of rumours throughout the day and evening, but nothing very precise or authentic. There have been sundry collisions between the rabble and the authorities, civil and military. Mob fired upon. It generally runs, but on one occasion appears to have rallied, charged the police and militia, and forced them back in disorder. The people are waking up, and by tomorrow there will adequate organization to protect property and life. Many details come in of yesterday’s brutal, cowardly ruffianism and plunder. Shops were cleaned out and a black man hanged in Carmine Street, for no offence but that of Nigritude. Opdyke’s house again attacked this morning by a roaming handful of Irish blackguards. Two or three gentlemen who chanced to be passing saved it from sack by a vigorous charge and dispersed the popular uprising (as the Herald, World, and News call it), with their walking sticks and their fists.

Walked uptown perforce, for no cars and few omnibi were running. They are suppressed by threats of burning railroad and omnibus stables, the drivers being wanted to reinforce the mob. Tiffany’s shop, Ball & Black’s, and a few other Broadway establishments are closed. (Here I am interrupted by a report of a fire near at hand, and a great glare on the houses across the Park. Sally forth, and find the Eighteenth Ward station house, Twenty-second Street, near First Avenue, in full blaze. A splendid blaze it made, but I did not venture below Second Avenue, finding myself in a crowd of Celtic spectators disgorged by the circumjacent tenement houses. They were exulting over the damage to “them bloody police,” and so on. I thought discretion the better part of curiosity. Distance lent enchantment to that view.)

At 823 with Bellows four to six; then home. At eight to Union League Club. Rumor it’s to be attacked tonight. Some say there is to be a great mischief tonight and that the rabble is getting the upper hand. Home at ten and sent for by Dudley Field, Jr., to confer about an expected attack on his house and his father’s, which adjoin each other in this street just below Lexington Avenue. He has a party there with muskets and talks of fearful trouble before morning, but he is always a blower and a very poor devil. Fire bells again again at twelve-fifteen. No light of conflagration is visible. [. . .]

A good deal of yelling to the eastward just now. The Fields and their near neighbour, Colonel Frank Howe, are as likely to be attacked by this traitor-guilded mob as any people I know. If they are, we shall see trouble in this quarter, and Gramercy Park will acquire historical associations. O, how tired I am! But I feel reluctant to go to bed. I believe I dozed off a minute or two. There came something like two reports of artillery, perhaps only falling walls. There go two jolly Celts along the street, singing a genuine Celtic howl, something about “Tim O’Laggerty,” with a refrain of pure Erse. Long live the sovereigns of New York, Brian Boroo redivivus and multiplied. Paddy has left his Egypt - Connaught - and reigns in this promised land of milk and honey and perfect freedom. Hurrah, there goes a strong squad of police marching eastward down this street, followed by a company of infantry with gleaming bayonets. One A.M. Fire bells again, southeastward, “Swinging slow with sullen roar.” Now they are silent, and I shall go to bed, at least for a season.’

The Diary Junction

Monday, July 20, 2015

Diary briefs

Goebbels’ family wins royalty battle - The GuardianNewsweek

WW1 diary of Royal Engineer online - Maynooth University, The Irish Times

Kolkata’s house of horror - Times of India, Zee News

Swansong 1945: A Collective Diary - Granta, Amazon

The Romantic Journals of Jean Lucey Pratt - The Bookseller, Amazon

The wartime story of Wally Layne - Wally’s war website, Grantham Journal

Mystery traveller’s diary found in NZ - Otago Daily TimesManchester Evening News

Extracts from Qin Geng’s prison diary - Radio Free Asia

Michael Palin on his diaries - The Guardian

Diary of an Aussie speechwriter - ABC.net

Japanese soldier’s wartime diary - The Asahi Shimbun

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Dodgson in wonderland

‘Went to Macmillan’s and wrote in 20 or more copies of Alice to go as presents to various friends.’ This is Charles Dodgson, otherwise known as Lewis Carroll, writing in his diary exactly one hundred and fifty years ago today. Although there are widespread celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the first edition due for publishing in July 1865, was actually pulped - at least all but about 23 copies were. The reprinted work was not available for sale until several months later, with a formal publishing date of 1866.

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was born into a large family in 1832 in Daresbury, Cheshire. When he was 11, the family moved to Yorkshire, where his father, a clergyman, had been given the living at Croft-on-Tees. Charles was schooled at Richmond Grammar, and Rugby, before entering Christ Church, Oxford, where he excelled in maths and classics, gaining a degree in the former (in 1854). Thereafter, he stayed at the college, as a librarian and holding a lectureship. From early in life, Dodgson suffered from various ailments: he was deaf in one ear, he had a weak chest, and he had a significant stammer.

Settled in Oxford, Dodgson’s social, artistic and intellectual life began to flourish. He was charming and ambitious, it is said, and began to move in pre-Raphaelite circles, with the likes of John Ruskin and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. He took up photography in a serious way, often taking portraits of young girls. Having written poems and short stories since his boyhood days, he now began to publish them - mostly humorous or satirical works - to some acclaim. In 1856, a poem called Solitude appeared in The Train under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll - the first time he used the name. As a condition of residency at Christ Church, he was expected to become ordained as a deacon and then a priest. He delayed becoming a deacon, and, almost uniquely, managed to flout college rules and not take the final step to priesthood.

In the latter half of the 1850s, Dodgson became close friends with Henry Liddell, dean of the college, and his family, including a son and three daughters, one of them named Alice. In July 1862, while out boating with Alice and others, he made up the outline of a story that Alice then begged him to write down. More than two years later, he gave her a hand-written manuscript, with his own illustrations, called Alice's Adventures Under Ground. This is now held by the British Library, and can be viewed online. Other children also loved the story, and so, with support from the publisher Macmillan, Dodgson developed the manuscript into a book for publication. He commissioned John Tenniel for the illustrations, and it was published under Dodgson’s pseudonym. It enjoyed huge commercial success and made Lewis Carroll famous.

Dodgson published a sequel to Wonderland in 1871, Alice Through the Looking Glass, and, five years later, his other famous work, The Hunting of the Snark, a fantastical nonsense poem. He also continued to publish books on mathematical subjects; and he was keen on inventing gadgets and games and tricks. Dodgson never married, but he is known to have had several relationships, some thought to be scandalous, with adult women. He retired from his Christ Church lectureship in 1881, but was appointed Curator of Common Room. He died in Guildford in 1898. Further information is readily available online, at Wikipedia, The Lewis Carroll Society, The Victorian Web, an online exhibition at the Harry Ransom Center, an article in The Smithsonian, St Andrew’s University MacTutor archive, CliffsNotes etc.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland - currently the focus of many 150th anniversary events - is also readily available online in different formats, at Internet Archive, for example, or as an ebook from the University of Adelaide website. And the internet is awash with information about, and articles on, the book, at Wikipedia, The New York Times, The Independent, The Guardian, for example, or Lenny’s Alice in Wonderland website.

However, it is worth noting that most copies of the book’s first print run, in July 1865, were withdrawn by Carroll because Tenniel thought his illustrations had been reproduced poorly. A new printer was commissioned and the first books available for the public appeared in late 1865 (though dated 1866). Only 23 copies of the original print run are known to exist (called ‘the 1865 Alice’) and remain among the rarest and most sought after books in publishing history. In mid-1866, Carroll sold some of the unbound first print run to Appleton’s in New York which replaced the title page before selling them (these are called ‘the Appleton Alice’).

Dodgson kept a fairly detailed diary throughout his adult life. Nine volumes are extant (with a few missing pages), the first is numbered 2, and the last 13 (covering the years 1855 to 1897), but four are considered missing (i.e. nos. 1, 3, 6 and 7). Following his death, the manuscript diaries were kept by members of the Dodgson family, and then by his estate until purchased by the British Library in 1969.

In 1953, Dodgson’s trustees commissioned Roger Lancelyn Green to edit sections of the journals. About two-thirds of the entire journal was included in this edition - The Diaries of Lewis Carroll (two volumes, Cassell, 1953) - with selections designed to emphasise Dodgson’s literary exploits. Much more recently, between 1993 and 2007, the full text of all nine surviving volumes has been edited by Edward Wakeling and published by The Lewis Carroll Society in 10 volumes (with many annotations and index). A full description and breakdown of these volumes’ contents can be found on the Lewis Carroll Society website.

The fifth volume of this modern edition consists of Dodgson’s ninth journal, from September 1864 to January 1868 (and includes the so-called Russian Journal - which had, in fact been published as early as 1935, by Dutton, New York). The Society provides this description of its contents: ‘The period covered by this ninth volume of Dodgson’s private journal covers the publication of the book which made him internationally famous. The journal begins with an entry for 13 September 1864 in which Dodgson records the completion of the illustrations drawn into his manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, prepared as a gift for Alice Liddell. Already, Dodgson’s decision to publish the book had been taken. He anticipated that its publication would be a significant event in his life, and he left space in his journal to record the chronological development of the book, adding subsequent entries to show the progress from manuscript to the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865.’

The Society’s description continues: ‘Dodgson, now in his early thirties, is revealed in his journal as a confident member of society, at ease in travelling around the country, enjoying the opportunities that life has for a young adult making his way in the world. He is now established as a senior member of Christ Church in the important position of mathematical lecturer with a string of mathematical publications to his name. He makes regular visits to London taking advantage of the art galleries and theatrical productions in which he is greatly interested. His photography, of which he has become very proficient, opens doors to the famous celebrities of his day. Yet there is a thread which runs through his journals which shows a man who is not entirely at ease with himself. The prayers grow in intensity. Self-doubts and his lack of ability to maintain the very high standards he has set for himself return to trouble him.’

Here are several entries from Dodgson’s diary number nine (to be found in the modern edition’s fifth volume) which refer specifically to the story/book that would bring him such fame.

13 September 1864
‘At Croft. Finished drawing the pictures in the MS copy of “Alice’s Adventures.” It was first told July 4, 1862. Headings written out (on my way to London) July 5, 1862. MS copy begun Nov 13, 1862. Text finished before Feb 10, 1864 [. . .]’

12 October 1864
‘Help me, oh God, to serve Thee better. For Jesus Christ’s sake.

Called on Macmillan, and had some talk about the book, but settled little. Then to Terry’s, to say that I have given up photographing in town this time. I found Mr. Terry (whom I had not seen before), Charlie and Tom. Florence is pretty, but not so fascinating as Polly: both will probably grow up beautiful. Thence I went to Tenniel’s who showed me one drawing on wood, the only thing he had, of Alice sitting by the pool of tears, and the rabbit hurrying away. We discussed the book, and agreed on about 34 pictures.’

8 April 1865
‘University Boat Race (it always is on the day before Palm Sunday, according to the Evening Herald), which Oxford won by 10 lengths. I did not go to it, but gave the day to Macmillan, Tenniel (who is doing the 30th picture), Holman Hunt, whom I found working at a very large picture (life size or nearly so) of Mrs. Fairbairn and children. Thence I went to the MacDonalds, and had a game of croquet with them.’

26 May 1865
‘Received from Macmillan a copy (blank all but the first sheet) of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, bound in red cloth as specimen.’

15 July 1865
‘Went to Macmillan’s and wrote in 20 or more copies of Alice to go as presents to various friends. This took so long that I did not get to Terry’s till 12½, where I photographed till about 4½, and took a large one of Miss Terry in fancy costume, Tom, a Miss Martin, a friend of theirs, and finally a family group of all but the baby.

Then I had a game of “Castle Croquet’ with Miss Terry, Mrs. Watts, and Polly. I made a sort of dinner at their tea, and ended by escorting Polly to the Olympic to see The Serf. We had Miss Terry’s season-ticket, and got good places in the dress-circle. After The Serf I took Polly round to the stage-door to join her sister and went back to see Glaucus, a very pretty burlesque. I mark these last three days with a white stone.’ [See Contrariwise for a detailed discussion of Dodgson’s ‘white stone’ references.]

20 July 1865
‘Called on Macmillan, and showed him Tenniel’s letter about the fairy-tale, he is entirely dissatisfied with the printing of the pictures, and I suppose we shall have to do it all again. (Millais recommends keeping back the 2000 printed at Oxford for future edition). Thence to Thomas’, the man there thinks the lamp is the cause, as I found when I tried yellow calico round it and got some first-rate negatives of Mrs. Millais, Effie, and Mary. Spent the evening again at Putney.’

2 August 1865
‘Finally decided on the re-print of Alice, and that the first 2000 shall be sold as waste paper. Wrote about it to Macmillan, Combe and Tenniel. The total cost will be: drawing pictures 138; cutting pictures 142; printing (by Clay) 240; binding & advertising (say) 89 = 600, i.e. 6/- a copy on the 2000. If I make £500 by sale, this will be a loss of £100, and the loss on the first 2000 will probably be £100 leaving me £200 out of pocket.

But if a second 2000 could be sold it would cost £300, and bring in £500, thus squaring accounts: and any further sale would be a gain: but that I can hardly hope for.’

9 November 1865
‘Received from Macmillan a copy of the impression of Alice, very far superior to the old, and in fact a perfect piece of artistic printing.’

An intriguing diary-related snippet about Dodgson is that he kept a short diary for and about Isa Bowman, 14 years old at the time. They had met when she was performing in a stage version of Alice in 1886, and then reprised the role in 1888 (when the diary was written). For a few years, she continued to visit and stay with him. His last novel - Sylvie and Bruno - was dedicated to her in 1889. A year or so after his death, Bowman published The Story of Lewis Carroll told for young people by The Real Alice in Wonderland (J. M. Dent, London, 1899). And in this book, Bowman includes a facsimile of the diary Carroll wrote for her. It is freely available to read online at Internet Archive.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Better than Proust’s madeleine

Happy birthday Timothy Garton Ash, historian and journalist. I sometimes read your articles in The Guardian, but, on seeing that your 60th birthday was upcoming, I raced to the library, yesterday in fact, to borrow The File: A Personal History. This is a book you wrote in the 1990s partly based on a Stasi report of your earlier life in Berlin (which you describe as ‘better than Proust’s madeleine’) and your own diaries - hence this article. Unfortunately, I can only find one mention of you in my own diaries - concerning something you wrote in 2005 about decivilisation, which chimed so well with a novel I’d just written that I couldn’t resist making a note of it.

Garton Ash was born on 12 July 1955. His father, John, had been a Royal Artillery officer, one of the first to land in Normandy on D-Day, and later a finance expert advising schools in the independent sector. Timothy himself was schooled at Sherborne, and then studied modern history at Oxford University. He moved to Berlin, in the early 1980s, to further his postgraduate research, and then travelled widely through Eastern Europe reporting on the emancipation of Central Europe from communism. He was appointed foreign editor of the Spectator, but also wrote for The Times and The Independent.

Since 1990, Garton Ash has been a Fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford, and, since 2000, Professor of European Studies. He is also the Isaiah Berlin Professorial Fellow. In the US, he maintains a part-time residence at the Hoover Institution (Stanford University). There is very little personal information about Garton Ash readily available on the internet, other than that he is married to Danuta, has two children, and is based in Oxford. More readily available is information on his fellowships (Royal Society of Literature, Royal Historical Society, and Royal Society of Arts) and awards (the Somerset Maugham Award, for example, the George Orwell Prize, and Orders of Merit from Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic).

Garton Ash’s most recent books are Facts Are Subversive: Political Writing from a Decade Without a Name and Free World: America, Europe, and the Surprising Future of the West. He writes a weekly column for The Guardian and is a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books. His current research is listed as being on global free speech in the age of the internet and mass migration.

After authoring, in the 1980s and early 1990s, several books on the recent history of central Europe, Garton Ash turned his attention to a more personal story. He discovered that the Stasi had kept a detailed file on his activities and movements while living in Berlin, and he returned to the city to look into the file, and, ultimately to write and publish a book on his findings - The File: A Personal History (HarperCollins 1997, republished by Atlantic Books in 2009, with a new afterword).

‘In this memoir,’ the publisher says, ‘Garton Ash describes what it was like to rediscover his younger self through the eyes of the Stasi, and then to go on to confront those who actually informed against him to the secret police. Moving from document to remembrance, from the offices of British intelligence to the living rooms of retired Stasi officers, The File is a personal narrative as gripping, as disquieting, and as morally provocative as any fiction by George Orwell or Graham Greene. And it is all true.’

Of interest to me, to this web site, is that Garton Ash kept a diary during his Berlin years, (I’ve no idea whether he has continued to keep one in the 30 odd years since - I hope so), and used that diary to inform and colour his literary and moral adventures in Stasi-land. Unfortunately, however, he rarely quotes from his diary at any length, preferring to cite it as the source of some piece of information about his whereabouts or feelings or thoughts. However, here are a few short extracts, as quoted in The File directly from his diary.

In the first pages of the book, Garton Ash reproduces a Stasi observation report on him for 6 October 1979 when he made a trip to East Berlin. He follows this by describing the contents of his own diary for that day, which has Claudia ‘cheeky in red beret and blue uniform coat’. ‘Over Friedrichstrasse,’ his diary continues, ‘searched down to the soles of my shoes (Duckers. Officer very impressed.)’ He then continues with memories of the day before quoting this, also from his diary of that day: ‘Becoming yet more intimate . . . The torchlit procession. The cold, cold east wind. Our warmth. The maze - encircled. Slipping through the columns, evading the policemen. Finally to ‘Ganymed’. Tolerable dinner. C. re. her ‘Jobben’. Her political activity. We cross back via Friedrichstr. To Diener’s . . . c.0300 at Uhlandstr. Daniel, desperate and pale-faced before the flat door - locked out!’

At the end of this introductory chapter Garton Ash writes: ‘The Stasi’s observation report, my own diary entry: two versions of one day in a life. The ‘object’ described with the cold outward eye of the secret policeman and my own subjective, allusive, emotional self-description. But what a gift to memory is a Stasi file. Far better than Proust’s madeleine.’

Garton Ash’s diary continues to inform and enrich his story in the book, part memoir, part analysis, part drama (in the sense that he confronts several of the people who had informed on him years earlier, and considers at length whether to mention their real names or not). But, as I’ve said, he rarely quotes more than a few words. Here’s some further, very brief, extracts from later in the book when he’s heading for Poland to cover the rise of Solidarity.

- ‘Poland,’ he writes in The File, ‘was what journalists call a ‘breaking story’. To follow such a story is like being lashed to the saddlestraps of a racehorse at full gallop: very exciting, but you don’t get the best view of the race. Yet I tried to achieve a view from the Grandstand, even an aerial view, and to understand the story as part of history. The history of the present. For me, Poland was also a cause. ‘Poland is my Spain,’ I wrote in my diary on Christmas Eve 1980.’

- ‘On the day I left East Berlin, my diary records: ‘It seems to me now odds-on that the Russians will march into Poland. (And the Germans? Dr D. today says Ja.)’ ’

- ‘I am startled to find that on the last page of my diary for 1980 I myself wrote: ‘There will be a nuclear war in the next decade.’ And then in capital letters, as if the lower case formulation was still inadequate: ‘WE WILL SEE A NUCLEAR WAR IN THIS DECADE.’ ’

As mentioned above, Garton Ash appears once only in my own diaries. This was in September 2005, and I was much taken up with my failure to get any attention for a novel I’d published, Kip Fenn - Reflections (more recently re-self-published in three volumes under the title Not a Brave New World - a trilogy in three wives). I had been very excited about this novel - the fictional memoir of an international diplomat, but one set in the future, spanning the whole of the 21st century, and very much focused on political and social issues, particularly the rich-poor divide. Despite its original format and story-line, I’d been unable to get anyone in the publishing industry to even glance at it, let alone take it seriously. That particular day, I noted in my diary several stories in The Guardian, all of which related directly to themes in my novel, in particular Garton Ash’s: Decivilisation is not as far away as we like to think.

Garton Ash concluded that article as follows: ‘In political preaching mode, we may take [hurricane] Katrina as an appeal to get serious about addressing these challenges, which means the great blocs and the great powers of the world [. . .] reaching for a new level of international cooperation.’ This is precisely, but precisely, the main and urgent theme of my novel.

I also note in my diary that day how the media was giving a lot of attention to the UN’s 60th birthday, and calling for an increase in the amount of aid to the developed world - again this is a major theme in my novel, one that dovetails with the need for a new level of international cooperation. Indeed, the career of the narrator, Kip Fenn, in my novel leads him to become head of a major new UN agency designed to fund sustainable development in developing countries to counteract the worst effects of climate change.

What I could not understand then, I still cannot understand today, is why the publishing world - by which I mean publishers, agents, reviewers etc. which effectively guard the gateway to both supply and demand - showed absolutely no interest in considering a serious novel, about our political and social future. As far as I can tell, nothing like it had been published before, or has been since - and yet I personally yearn for such novels, ones that have something to say beyond the emotional landscape of individuals or nirvanas of descriptive paradise.

So, once again Timothy Garton Ash, happy birthday, and if your interest is at all peaked by the idea of my novel, I’d be more than happy to send it to you - I’ve plenty lying around the house.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The rock and roll life

‘Today is my birthday and it’s the first one I ever spent on a train. Arrived Chicago at 1pm. Had a three-hour layover then caught the 4pm train for home. Should be there at 6.35 tomorrow morning. Happy birthday Bill. What a life.’ This is Bill Haley, the great - and some say forgotten - rock and roll star of the 1950s writing in a diary he kept for a few months at the height of his fame. Today also would have been his birthday - his 90th!

Bill Haley was born on 6 July 1925, into a musical family - his father played the banjo, and his mother keyboards. They moved from Highland Park, Michigan, to near Chester, Pennsylvania, during the Great Depression, but, by the age of 15, Bill had left home and was making money where he could by playing guitar. At some point during the 1940s, he was considered one of the top cowboy yodelers, known as Silver Yodeling Bill Haley.

For six years, Haley was a DJ and then musical director of Radio Station WPWA in Chester, Pennsylvania. He married his first wife, Dorothy Crowe, in 1946, and had two children with her. He led his own band - Bill Haley’s Saddlemen - which played at clubs around Philadelphia as well as on the radio. In 1951, the group made its first recordings on Ed Wilson’s Keystone Records. These included a cover of Rocket 88, a rhythm and blues song first recorded by 
Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats earlier the same year in Memphis, Tennessee (considered by some to be the first ever rock and roll record). The following year, the Saddlemen changed its name to Bill Haley and the Comets. Success soon followed, with many top 20 hits over the next few years. Already divorced, Haley married his second wife, Barbara Joan Cupchack, with whom he had two children, though only one survived through infancy.

Crazy Man, Crazy and a cover version of Big Joe Turner’s Shake, Rattle and Roll were the group’s first big hits; and the latter was the first rock and roll song to enter the British singles charts (December 1954). Rock Around the Clock, said to have been written for Haley, released in 1954, did not become a number one single, on both sides of the Atlantic, until a year later, after it appeared as the theme song for Blackboard Jungle starring Glenn Ford. History has settled on Rock Around the Clock, and specifically Haley’s recording of it, as the key record that brought rock and roll into mainstream culture around the world, thus in time displacing the jazz and pop standards performed by singers such as Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and Bing Crosby.

Bill Haley and the Comets continued to record hits through the later 1950s, and Haley starred in the first rock and roll musical films Rock Around the Clock and Don’t Knock the Rock, both in 1956. It wasn’t long, though, before Elvis Presley arrived on the scene, eclipsing Haley, whose life, by the early 1960s, was falling apart: the Comets were in trouble, as was his marriage, and he had problem with tax debts. He fled to Mexico where he married his third wife, Martha Velasco, a dancer. They had one child together. There, he also signed up with a domestic record label, Orfeon, and his group released many songs recorded in Spanish.

As the 1960s progressed, Haley toured in Europe with fans keen to discover rock music’s roots, and the Sonet label giving him a lucrative deal. In the US, so-called revival concerts, first staged by promoter Richard Nader in 1969, brought Haley back into the limelight. By the early 70s, Rock Around the Clock was again a hit: re-recorded by Haley for a popular TV show, while the original recording appeared on the soundtrack of American Graffiti. Having been dogged by alcohol problems, Haley’s health deteriorated quickly. After performing in front of Queen Elizabeth II in late 1979 at a Royal Variety Performance, he went on tour to South Africa where he gave his very last performances - a tour to Germany was cancelled. He may, or may not, have had a brain tumour, but his mental and physical health collapsed in the months following, and he died in early 1981. He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

Further biographical information can be found at Wikipedia, in a Guardian re-assessment of Haley as a forgotten pioneer of rock and roll, Rik Hull’s fan site, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or the Pennsylvania Center for the Book.

At the height of his early fame, Bill Haley decided to keep a daily diary. Edited extracts were first published (as far as I know) in three editions of the Now Dig This magazine (Nos. 154 and 155 in 1996, covering Haley’s 1956 diary, and No. 166 in 1997, covering Haley’s 1957 diary). Although these diary entries are not available anywhere online, they are quoted extensively in Otto Fuchs’s biography - Bill Haley - The Father of Rock and Roll. This was first published in German, and then in an English language version (900 pages) by Wagner Verlag in 2011. Here are some extracts from Haley’s diary as quoted by Fuchs from Now Dig This.

7 January 1956
‘Started second day on picture at 9.30 am. Everything going well. Saw some re-runs on first scenes. I look terrible I think, but everyone is giving me compliments. Hope we get through this. Quite an experience. Glad to have Cuppy with me.’ [Bill Haley and His Comets were with a large entourage in Hollywood to star in a film named after their greatest hit - Rock Around The Clock.]

9 January 1956
‘Reported at 9.30 am for third day at Colombia lot. Shot more scenes on the picture. Today did ‘Rock Around The Clock’ and ‘Rudy’s Rock’. That makes 5 songs so far we’ve done in the picture. So far the picture is going great. This is a big break for us. Keeping my fingers crossed. To bed early and up at them tomorrow at 7.30 am.’

13 January 1956
‘Finished picture. $20,000 for picture. Started 7.30 am on sixth day of picture. Had my big talking scenes today. Finished work on picture at 3 pm. Now it’s up to the public whether we’re movie stars or not. Worked in El Monte, California tonight - $1,500. Poor crowd. Promoter says disc jockeys are mad at me because I haven’t been able to see them. You can’t win. Hope I can straighten things out. Met Harry Tobias today. He gave me some songs for our firm.’

21 January 1956
‘Salt Lake City, Utah. Rainbow Rondeau - $1,900. Spent day doing D.J. promotion. Treated us like royalty here. Very nice hotel. Worked two shows tonight. Drew over 2,500 people. Very good crowd, Record of ‘Later Alligator’ already in Top 10 here. Looks like we have a big hit. This has been a good day.’

26 January 1956
‘Got my new 1956 Fleetwood Cadillac today. It’s pink and the most gorgeous car I’ve ever seen. Everyone loves the car. The sad part is I leave tomorrow morning for a 10-day tour of one-nighters. I hate to leave home again. But maybe soon we can slack off work.’

22 April 1956
‘3rd day [of 45 day tour]. Weather good so far. All the acts are behaving. Mosque Theatre, Richmond, Virginia. $1,430. Both shows sold out and turned thousands away. 9,600 people for two shows. This tour is like sitting on a keg of dynamite. The show is all coloured but our act. With the racial situation in the south broiling plus the newspapers and magazines like ‘Variety’ stirring up everyone about rock and roll, anything can happen. I hope my nerves hold up.’

28 May 1956
‘Left Miami at 9.30am on Eastern Railroad for Savannahm Georgia where we are tonight. Arrived Savannah at 7.25pm Sports Arena, Savannah, Georgia $1,420. 2,500 people here. Segregation problem is strong here as we expected. This time the negroes refused to come to the second show. Results: 2,500 people first show, second show cancelled. This race problem is not mine. I’ll be glad to finish this tour and let the south alone for now.’

6 July 1956
‘Today is my birthday and it’s the first one I ever spent on a train. Arrived Chicago at 1pm. Had a three-hour layover then caught the 4pm train for home. Should be there at 6.35 tomorrow morning. Happy birthday Bill. What a life.’

The diary entries for 1957 cover tours to Australia and Europe (inc. England), but Haley’s commitment to the diary is waning by then, and his entries get briefer and briefer.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Her genius triumphed

‘She looked ill, and I thought her articulation indistinct, and her voice drawling and funereal during the first act; but as she advanced in the play, her genius triumphed over natural impediments. She was all that could be wished.’ This is Henry Crabb Robinson writing about Sarah Siddons, the most famous tragic actress of her time, who was born 260 years ago today. Although Siddons was already in decline - a year or so later she would give her final, and very memorable, performance as Lady Macbeth - the much younger Robinson is clearly in thrall to the actress, as were many people of the age.

Sarae Kemble was born on 5 July 1755 in Brecon, Wales, the eldest child of Roger Kemble - manager of a touring theatre - and actress Sally Ward. As her family were always travelling, she went to a succession of schools, but aged 12 was offered a free place at Mrs Harris’s School for Young Ladies in Worcester. Later, in 1773, after two years in service, she married her childhood sweetheart ,William Siddons, who had been an actor in her father’s company. They would have seven children, although Sarah outlived all but two.

Sarah Siddons came early to the attention of David Garrick, the great 18th century theatre impresario, and was given a chance at his Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, but her first appearances - soon after the birth of her second child - were not well received, and she lasted but a few months. For the next few years, she worked with touring shows, often in Bath and York. Then, in 1782, at the invitation of Richard Brinsley Sheridan who had taken over from Garrick, she reappeared at Drury Lane - to great success - playing the title role in Garrick’s adaptation of a play by Thomas Southerne, Isabelle. Immediately, she became a public favourite, a cult figure, with audiences said to have fallen into hysterics at her performances. She was much in demand by fashionable society: Joshua Reynolds painted her portrait - The Tragic Muse; and, she was employed to teach elocution to the royal children.

By the mid-1780s, Siddons had settled into London society, mixing with the nobility, writers, and politicians; and for the next fifteen years she maintained a routine of performing in Drury Lane during the winter months and touring in the summer. Her brother, John Philip Kemble, also became a famous Drury Lane actor. In 1803, he bought a share of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, and became its manager. Siddons, having left Drury Lane in 1802 for a period in Ireland, returned to London and performed there too.

Sarah Siddons’ later family life was far from happy, with money problems, conflict with her daughters over their relationship with a painter, Thomas Lawrence, and rumours of her husband having affairs. By the early years of the 19th century, her health was not at its best, with physical ailments and depression affecting her performances - though she continued to command crowds, especially outside London. Her husband William died in 1808, although they were separated by this time.

Siddons played her final season at Covent Garden in 1811–12, ending with a highly emotional farewell benefit on 29 June 1812, when she played Lady Macbeth - her most famous role. After the sleep-walking scene the applause continued for so long that Kemble, her brother, decided to drop the curtain. When it was drawn up again, Siddons was in her own character sitting at a table dressed in white satin with a veil. She rose wishing to speak, but the applause continued so loud that she could not be heard. She curtsied and bowed - all these details come from Joseph Farington, the painter who left behind extensive diaries providing a vivid picture of London in the late Georgian period - until there was silence. She then spoke for eight minutes. Although she, herself, did not cry, it is recorded that her brother did, and when he asked the audience if the play should continue, they did not allow it.

In fact, Siddons continued to perform for several more years, giving her very final stage appearance in 1819. The last years of her life were lived in deep melancholy, according to her niece, Fanny Kemble, also a famous actress and an occasional diarist - see Remembering Fanny Kemble. Siddons died in 1831. Eleven coaches of mourners attended her funeral, which drew crowds of more than 5,000. Further biographical information can be found at Wikipedia, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required), or in A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers and Other Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800 (vol. 14) (which at the time of writing is free to view at Googlebooks).

Sarah Siddons was no diarist, but she was such a celebrity in her day that she is often mentioned in other people’s diaries, Farington, for example, and Fanny Burney. Here, though, are several extracts about her from Henry Crabb Robinson’s diaries (see Weeds don’t spoil published earlier this by The Diary Review). They are taken from the first volume of Diary, Reminiscences, and Correspondence of Henry Crabb (Macmillan, 1869). Robinson was still a young man about town, and his diary entries about Siddons - then an ageing actress - seem to almost document her decline. But in the early part of his book in which he reminisces on his past, Robinson is describing his life in 1797, and says: ‘One of my principal amusements was the theatre. I had great pleasure in the acting of Mrs. Jordan and others, but my admiration for Mrs. Siddons was boundless.’

4 April 1811
‘At Pope’s benefit, at the Opera House. “The Earl of Warwick.” Mrs. Siddons most nobly played her part as Margaret of Anjou. The character is one to which she can still render justice. She looked ill, and I thought her articulation indistinct, and her voice drawling and funereal during the first act; but as she advanced in the play, her genius triumphed over natural impediments. She was all that could be wished. The scene in which she wrought upon the mind of Warwick was perfect. And in the last act, her triumphant joy at the entrance of Warwick, whom she had stabbed, was incomparable. She laughed convulsively, and staggered off the stage as if drunk with delight; and in every limb showed the tumult of passion with an accuracy and a force equally impressive to the critic and the man of feeling.

Her advancing age is a real pain to me. As an actor, she has left with me the conviction that there never was, and never will be, her equal.’

15 October 1811
‘Journey to London. Incledon the singer was in the coach, and I found him just the man I should have expected. Seven rings on his fingers, five seals on his watch-ribbon, and a gold snuff-box, at once betrayed the old beau. I spoke in terms of rapture of Mrs. Siddons. He replied, “Ah! Sally’s a fine creature. She has a charming place on the Edgeware Road. I dined with her last year, and she paid me one of the finest compliments I ever received. I sang “The Storm” after dinner. She cried and sobbed like a child. Taking both of my hands, she said, ‘All that I and my brother ever did is nothing compared with the effect you produce!’ ’

21 April 1812
‘Accompanied Cargill to Covent Garden. Mrs. Siddons in “Mrs. Beverley”. Her voice appeared to have lost its brilliancy (like a beautiful face through a veil); in other respects, however, her acting is as good as ever. Her “Oh, that my eyes were basilisks!” was her great moment in the play. Her smile was enchantingly beautiful; and her transitions of countenance had all the ease and freedom of youth. If she persist in not playing Mrs. Beverley again, that character will, I am confident, never be played with anything like equal attractions.’

19 May 1812
‘Went to Covent Garden Theatre. Mrs. Siddons played Queen Catherine to perfection, and Kemble as Wolsey, in the scene of his disgrace, was greatly applauded. I think I never saw Mrs. Siddons’s  pantomime in higher excellence. The dying scene was represented with such truthfulness, as almost to go beyond the bounds of beautiful imitation, viz. by shifting her pillow with the restlessness of a person in pain, and the suspended breath in moving, which usually denotes suffering. It was, however, a most delightful performance.’

5 June 1812
‘At Covent Garden. For the first time in my life I saw Mrs. Siddons without any pleasure. It was in the part of the Lady in “Comus.” She was dressed most unbecomingly, and had a low gipsy hat with feathers hanging down the side. She looked old, and I had almost said ugly. Her fine features were lost in the distance. Even her declamation did not please me. She spoke in too tragic a tone for the situation and character.’

22 September 1814
‘I was in the grand gallery at the Louvre when I heard some one say, “Mrs. Siddons is below.” I instantly left the Raphaels and Titians, and went in search of her, and my Journal says: “I am almost ashamed to confess that the sight of her gave me a delight beyond almost any I have received in Paris.” I had never seen her so near. She was walking with Horace Twiss’s mother. I kept as near her as I could with decorum, and without appearing to be watching her; yet there was something about her that disturbed me. So glorious a head ought not to have been covered with a small chip hat. She knit her brows, too, on looking at the pictures, as if to assist a failing sight. But I recognized her fascinating smile with delight, though there was a line or two about her mouth which I thought coarse.’

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The witty, dapper Mr. Hay

John Milton Hay, one of the US’s less well-remembered political heroes, died 110 years ago today. As Secretary of State under President McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, he engineered the Open Door Policy, which kept China open to trade with all countries on an equal basis; and he played a very significant role in preparing the diplomatic treaties which allowed for construction of the Panama Canal. Although these achievements came late in life after spending the best part of three decades away from front-line politics, he had, as a young man, been taken on as an aide by President Abraham Lincoln, and had lived in the White House. During that time he kept a diary which has proved invaluable to Lincoln’s biographers.

Hay was born in 1838 in Salem, Indiana, into an anti-slavery family. In 1849 he moved to Illinois to live with his uncle, Milton Hay - a friend of Springfield attorney Abraham Lincoln. From the age of 13, John went to live with his grandparents in Springifield, where he attended Illinois State University for a while, before moving on to study at Brown University, Rhode Island. After graduating, he went to work as a law clerk in his uncle’s firm, by then in Springfield next door to Lincoln’s firm. He was admitted to the bar early in 1861. When, a few weeks later, Lincoln took office as president in 1861, he took Hay with him to the White House, largely on the recommendation of John George Nicolay (who had served as Lincoln’s private secretary for the election campaign).

Nicolay and Hay then both acted as Lincoln’s personal assistants - Hay travelling often during the Civil War on Lincoln’s business. Biographers say that after the death of his own son in 1862, Lincoln grew very attached to Hay, and Hay, likewise, saw Lincoln as a father figure and a very great man. Following Lincoln’s re-election at the end of 1864 and shortly before his assassination, he appointed Hay and Nicolay to roles in the US delegation in Paris, which they took up in 1865. Hay’s job did not last long, but he got another, temporary, diplomatic post in Vienna, and then one in Madrid. While in Spain he wrote articles for magazine that he later published in book form - Castilian Days. Indeed, he would go on to write much in his life, including novels and poetry.

After having failed to secure a significant political posting, Hay turned to journalism, and, in 1870, he joined the staff of the New-York Tribune. In 1874, he married Clara, daughter of the multimillionaire, Amasa Stone. He and Clara eventually went to live in a newly-built mansion next door to Stone in Cleveland. Hay helped manage Stone’s investments, and even took over running his empire when a rail disaster related to his businesses led Stone to recuperate in Europe. Hay and Clara had four children.

Between 1879 and 1881, Hay served as Assistant Secretary of State. Thereafter, though, he did not return to public office till the late 1890s. Amasa Stone’s suicide in 1883, left the Hays very wealthy. They commissioned a house to be built in Washington, facing the White House; and most years they travelled in Europe for several months. Hay worked consistently (with Nicolay) on a 10-volume biography of Lincoln, published in 1890; and regularly helped campaign for the Republican party. When his friend William McKinley was elected President, Hay was named Ambassador to Great Britain. He stayed in that post two years before being appointed Secretary of State, an office he held from 1898 under Presidents McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.

Hay’s most significant political achievement, biographers say, is the so-called Open Door Policy. Having persuaded McKinley that the US should champion equal trading rights in China, Hay sent similar diplomatic notes to six interested nations setting forth this proposition, designed to counter the trend toward divisive spheres of influence in the Orient. During the Boxer Rebellion, he proposed that all nations cooperate to preserve China’s territorial and administrative integrity. By negotiating the Hay–Pauncefote Treaty (with the UK) and treaties with other countries, Hay cleared the way for the US to build the Panama Canal; subsequently, he also assisted Roosevelt in negotiating Panama’s independence.

Hay died on 1 July 1905, still in office, not long after returning from Europe where he had gone to recuperate from heart problems. Wikipedia quotes this assessment of Hay by historian Lewis Gould in his biography of McKinley: ‘One of the most entertaining and interesting letter writers who ever ran the State Department, the witty, dapper, and bearded Hay left behind an abundance of documentary evidence on his public career. His name is indelibly linked with that verity of the nation’s Asian policy, the Open Door, and he contributed much to the resolution of the longstanding problems with the British. Patient, discreet, and judicious, Hay deserves to stand in the front rank of secretaries of state.’ Further biographical information is also available at Mr Lincoln & Friends, Mr. Lincoln’s White House, and New World Enclopedia.

As a young man in Lincoln’s White House, Hay kept a diary which has proved particularly useful to historians for the information it provides on Lincoln and his administration. Extracts were first published as early as 1908 in Letters of John Hay and Extracts from Diary. Although this appeared in three volumes, only the first contains any diary extracts, and this can be freely read online at Internet Archive. In 1939, New York City publishers, Dodd, Mead and Company brought out Lincoln and the Civil War in the Diaries and Letters of John Hay, as selected by Tyler Dennett. Much more recently, in 1999, Southern Illinois University Press published Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay, edited by Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger.

The publisher states: [This] edition of the diary is the first to publish the complete text of all of Hay’s entries from 1861 through 1864. In 1939 Tyler Dennett published Lincoln and the Civil War in the Diaries and Letters of John Hay, which, as Civil War historian Allan Nevins observed, was “rather casually edited.” This new edition is essential in part because Dennett omitted approximately 10 percent of Hay’s 1861-64 entries. Not only did the Dennett edition omit important parts of the diaries, it also introduced some glaring errors.’ The publisher adds: ‘Justly deemed the most intimate record we will ever have of Abraham Lincoln in the White House, the Hay diary is, according to Burlingame and Ettlinger, “one of the richest deposits of high-grade ore for the smelters of Lincoln biographers and Civil War historians.” ’ See the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association for a review by Frederick J. Blue.

Here are several extracts from Hay’s diary, taken from the Burlingame and Ettlinger edition. (The 1908 edition, as well as being incomplete, suffers from a surfeit of initials followed by dashes instead of actual names, and much added-in punctuation.)

18 April 1861
‘The White House is turned into barracks. Jim Lane marshalled his Kansas warriors to-day at Willard’s and placed them at the disposal of Maj. Hunter, who turned them tonight into the East Room. It is a splendid company - worthy of such an armory. Besides the western Jayhawkers it comprises some of the best materiel of the East. Senator Pomeroy and old Anthony Bleecker stood shoulder to shoulder in the ranks. Jim Lane walked proudly up and down the ranks with a new sword that the Major had given him. The Major has made me his aid, and I labored under some uncertainty as to whether I should speak to privates or not. [. . .]

All day the notes of preparation have been heard at the public buildings and the Armories. Everybody seems to be expecting a Son or brother or “young man” in the coming regiments.

To-night Edward brought me a card from Mrs. Ann S. Stephens expressing a wish to see the President on matters concerning his personal safety. As the Ancient was in bed, I volunteered to receive the harrowing communication. Edward took me to the little room adjoining the hall and I waited. Mrs. Stephens, who is neither young nor yet fair to any miraculous extent came in leading a lady, who was a little of both whom she introduced as Mrs. Col. Lander. I was delighted at this chance interview with the Medea, the Julia the Mona Lisa of my stage-struck days. After many hesitating and bashful trials, Mrs. Lander told the impulse that brought them. Some young Virginian long-haired swaggering chivalrous of course and indiscreet friend had come into town in great anxiety for a new saddle, and meeting her had said that he and half a dozen others including a daredevil guerilla from Richmond named Ficklin would do a thing within forty-eight hours that would ring through the world. Connecting this central fact with a multiplicity of attendant details she concluded that the President was either to be assassinated or captured. She ended by renewing her protestations of earnest solicitude mingled with fears of the impropriety of the step. Lander has made her very womanly since he married her. Imagine Jean M. Davenport a blushing hesitating wife!

They went away and I went to the bedside of the Chief couché. I told him the yarn; he quietly grinned.

Going to my room, I met the Captain. He was a little boozy and very eloquent. He dilated on the troubles of the time and bewailed the existence of a garrison in the White House, “to give √©clat to Jim Lane.”

Hill Lamon came in about midnight saying that Cash. Clay was drilling a splendid company at Willard’s Hall and that the town was in a general tempest of enthusiastic excitement. which not being very new, I went to sleep.’

7 November 1861
‘I talked tonight with the President about opening of the cotton trade by our sea-side excursionists. I represented the interest felt by Northern spinners who want it still blockaded. He doubted their statement that they had a large supply on hand whose price would be reduced by opening the trade and seemed to think that we equally with France and England would gain by it. He said it was an object to show the world we were fair in this matter favouring outsiders as much as ourselves. That it was by no means sure that they would bring their cotton to the port after we opened it. But it would be well to show Europe that it was secession that distressed them and not we. That the chief difficulty was in discovering how far the planters who bring us their cotton can be trusted with the money they receive for it.

I went in strong for the opening of the ports, I don’t know why, using all the arguments I could think of, and rather gained the idea that he also slanted in that direction.’

23 September 1862.
‘The President wrote the Proclamation on Sunday morning carefully. He called the Cabinet together on Monday made a little talk to them and read the momentous document. Mr. Blair and Mr. Bates made objections, otherwise the Cabinet was unanimous. The next day Mr. Blair who had promised to file his objections, sent a note stating that as his objections were only to the time of the act he would not file them, lest they should be subject to misconstruction.

I told the President of the Serenade that was coming and asked if he would make any remarks. He said, no, but he did say half a dozen words, & said them with great grace and dignity. I spoke to him about the editorials in the leading papers. He said he had studied the matter so long that he knew more about it than they did.

At Governor Chase’s there was some talking after the Serenade. Chase and Clay made speeches and the crowd was in a glorious humor. After the crowd went away, to force Mr. Bates to say something, a few old fogies staid at the Governor’s and drank wine. Chase spoke earnestly of the Proclamation. He said “this was a most wonderful history of an insanity of a class that the world had ever seen. If the Slaveholders had staid in the Union they might have kept the life in their institution for many years to come. That what no party and no public feeling in the North could ever have hoped to touch they had madly placed in the very path of destruction.” They all seemed to feel a sort of new and exhilarated life; they breathed freer; the Prest. Procn had freed them as well as the slaves. They gleefully and merrily called each other and themselves abolitionists, and seemed to enjoy the novel accusation of appropriating that horrible name.’

26 September 1862
‘Last night September 25 the President and I were riding to Soldiers Home; he said he had heard of an officer who had said they did not mean to gain any decisive victory but to keep things running on so that they the army might manage things to suit themselves. He said he should have the matter examined and if any such language had been used, his head should go off.

I talked a great deal about the McClellan conspiracy but he would make no answer to anything. He merely said that McC. was doing nothing to make himself either respected or feared.’

The Diary Junction