Monday, August 24, 2015

Sci-fi writer’s double life

The American science fiction writer, Alice B. Sheldon, aka James Tiptree, Jr., was born a century ago today. She is revered among sci-fi fans for her role in breaking down gender writing stereotypes - indeed her pseudonym lives on in the name of a sci-fi literary prize awarded to work that contributes to the understanding of gender. Although Sheldon did keep diaries, these have not been published. However, Julie Phillips quotes from them extensively in her 2006 biography.

Alice (Alli) Bradley was born on 24 August 1915 in Chicago. Her father was a lawyer and naturalist, and her mother an author of fiction and travel books. From an early age, she travelled a lot with her parents. In 1934, she eloped with, and married, William Davey, a student she had met a few days earlier. After trying college and also working as an artist, she divorced Davey in 1941 and returned to Chicago, where she was taken on as art critic at the Chicago Sun. The following year, she joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, and from 1943 she worked at the Pentagon as an interpreter of aerial reconnaissance photographs.

With the war over, Bradley was transferred to a different unit; and before long she had married her commanding officer, Colonel Huntington Sheldon. They left the army in 1946, and for several years ran a chicken farm in New Jersey. In 1952, they both joined the Central Intelligence Agency, though Bradley left in 1955. She also separated from Sheldon for a while, and went to study at the American University, and then at George Washington University, achieving, in 1967, a doctorate in experimental psychology. That same year she began submitting short science fiction stories - to magazines such as Analog Science Fact & Fiction, If and Fantastic - under the pseudonym of James Tiptree Jr.

According to Alice B. Sheldon’s biographer, Julie Phillips, ‘Alli chose her male pseudonym on a whim, in a supermarket, where a jar of Tiptree jam caught Alli’s eye. She was sending out some science fiction stories as a joke, and she wanted a name “editors wouldn’t remember rejecting.” But the male name turned out to have many uses. It made her feel taken seriously when she wrote about what she knew: guns, hunting, politics, war. It let her write the way she wanted to write, with an urgency that was hers. It gave her enough distance and control to speak honestly about herself.’ As Tiptree became more successful as a science fiction writer, there was an increasing amount of speculation about her identity and her gender: some thought the author rather macho, while others thought he was unusually feminist for a male writer. Thus, over time, her stories served t
o break down perceived ideas of gender-specific writing.

The first of her short story collections - Ten Thousand Light-Years from Home - came out in 1973, with others following every two to three years (four more in her lifetime). Although she tried writing novels, these were not considered as successful as her short stories. Tiptree’s identity was only uncovered in the late 1970s, but she continued to use the pseudonym for the rest of her life. Her later years, though, were not happy ones - Huntington became an invalid, incapable of caring for himself, and Alice herself suffered health problems. In 1987, having advised friends she wanted to end her life while still active, she shot her husband and then herself. They were found hand-in-hand in bed. For further biographical information see Wikipedia, National Public Radio, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, or Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Also, Julie Phillips’ James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon attracted many reviews when published by St Martin’s Press in 2006, and these can still be read online, at Book Forum, for example, or The New York Times. The book itself can be previewed at the book’s own website and at Googlebooks.

I have not been able to find out much about Alice B. Sheldon’s diary writing habits. Indeed, the only reference I can find to them comes in Phillips’ biography which says that Alice Sheldon’s friend, Jeffrey D. Smith, holds her professional papers including journals. (Smith is involved in the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, an annual literary prize for science fiction/fantasy that contributes to the understanding of gender). Phillips clearly had access to Sheldon’s diaries and journals, but although she quotes from them often, she gives very little information about the diaries themselves (nor does she give dates for all the quotes). Here are a couple of extracts from Sheldon’s diary as found in Phillips’ biography.

[From Chapter 12: War Fever]
Undated, 1941
‘My work doesn’t support me. I am a drain on my parents. They don’t mind, but it’s wrong. I should look for marriage. They don’t want me to marry, but I can’t live this way much longer. I’m no prize, either, I’m young, and pretty, and smart, but there are younger and prettier women, and what brains I have are a handicap. [. . .] All that must mean I can’t hope for one of the more desirable husbands. Shall I settle for age, ugliness or stupidity? . . . Of love I say nothing. . . I should try more salable work; “commercial” art. The times being what they are, art is a failure financially, in case I fail to marry. . . As to the mind, my lazy nature demands endless solitude and leisure to try and think, and between being nice to my parents, and these other affairs I have none. . . I could just try to make money and the devil with marriage, but my mind will crack in this unnatural life.’

[Instead, Phillips says, Sheldon found another outlet for her self-sacrifice.]
8 December 1941
‘Have given up painting for the war. There are two kinds of artists, those who paint during a war, and those who don’t. The second kind is me. There will be something to do soon.’

[From Chapter 38: I live in my body as in an alien artifact]
26 November 1977
‘I feel the sf writing is at, or coming to, an end. [. . .] But what do I DO inside? Try for ‘mainstream’ writing? A theory-research book? A diary? Some kind of weird autobiography? (Why, why?) I will NOT return to being a Bradley appendage. I feel I have one more go inside me, but what, what?’

2 February 1978
‘The distasteful proof of my sexuality is bound up with masochistic fantasies of helplessness [. . .] depressed me profoundly. I am not a man, I am not the do-er, the penetrator. And Tiptree was “magical” manhood, his pen my prick. I had through him all the power and prestige of masculinity, I was - though an aging intellectual - of those who own the world. How I loathe being a woman. Wanting to be done to. [. . .]

Tiptree’s “death” has made me face - what I never really went into with Bob [Harper] - my self-hate as a woman. And my view of the world as structured by raw power. [. . .] I want power. I want to be listened to. [. . .] And I’ll never have it. I’m stuck with this perverse, second-rate body; my life.’

Julie Phillips goes on to say: ‘What she needed, she kept thinking was “to change in some way inside myself.” She decided she should try lesbian sex. [. . .] She wrote in her journal, “I want to make love to young women, to make them come, and happy. Maybe then masturbate myself. Sex as activity. It could work. I shall start to mix it with women’s groups, looking to actualize this. I really believe I shall. I think I could make my aged self palatable enough. It was all straight-arrow.” But she didn’t do it.’

Calhoun in the Black Hills

James or Jimmi Calhoun, soldier in the US Army, was born 170 years ago today. He married George Custer’s sister, and was transferred to Custer’s 7th Cavalry Regiment. When the regiment was sent to explore the forbidding Black Hills, Calhoun kept an official diary of the expedition. Two years later, aged but 30, he was killed, along with his boss, at the Battle of Little Bighorn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand.

Calhoun was born on 24 August 1845 in Cincinnati, Ohio, into a rich merchant family. When the Civil War broke out, he was travelling in Europe, but on returning to the US, in 1864, he enlisted in the Union Army. By 1867, he had been commissioned as second lieutenant in the infantry. In 1870, he met Maggie, the sister of General George Custer, and they were married in 1872. By this time, Custer had promoted Calhoun to first lieutenant, had transferred him to his own regiment, the 7th cavalry, and had made him his adjutant. Custer and many of his men, including Calhoun, died in 1876, at the Battle of the Little Bighorn - famously remembered as Custer’s Last Stand - an overwhelming victory for the Native Americans against the US government. Subsequently, the site of the battle was named Calhoun Hill.

Two years earlier, in 1874, Custer had embarked on an expedition to the unexplored Black Hills, in what is now South Dakota, tasked with finding locations for a fort, seeking out a route to the southwest, and investigating the possibility of gold mining. He set off with around a thousand men, several Native American scouts, over a hundred wagons, artillery, and two months food supply. Calhoun kept a detailed diary of the expedition. This was edited by Lawrence A. Frost and published in 1979 by Brigham Young University Press as With Custer in ‘74: James Calhoun’s diary of the Black Hills expedition. For more on Calhoun see Wikipedia or Custer Lives, and for more on the Black Hills expedition see Wikipedia or Dr Brian Dippie at the Friends of the Little Bighorn Battlefield website. Here, though, are a few extracts from the published diary.

17 July 1874
‘The command moved at 5 o’clock. Two more rattlesnakes added to the family. Saw an Indian trail.

In full view of the Black Hills.

Two extensive fires from the direction of the Black Hills - at midnight the very heavens seemed on fire. Marched 18 miles. Arrived at Camp No. 16. No wood, very little water.’

7 August 1874
‘Travelled through a rich country - high rolling prairie - good arable land, extensive forests of fine timber, principally pine of large growth. Passed several small valleys with beautiful streams of crystal water running through them. A large mountain (grizzly) bear was killed late this afternoon. I should judge its weight to be about 800 lbs. The following named persons shot him: General Custer, USA, Capt W. Ludlow, Engineer Corps, USA, Private Jno Noonan, Co. L. 7th Cavalry, Bloody Knife, Indian scout.

Mr. Illingworth, a photographer of St. Paul, Minn., acompanying the Expedition, took a photograph of the hunters on a high knoll behind the tent of the Commanding Officer.

The Indian also killed a bear.

Abundant supply of wood. In the Black Hills there is no scarcity of timber. Extensive forests of large timber run all through this country, and for this reason I have not mentioned for several days past the fact of wood being found at our camps.

Marched 16 half miles, arrived at Camp No. 29. An excellent stream of water running through camp.

Good grazing.’

16 August 1874
‘Saw Indians on the right intercepted by Bloody Knife and Cold Hand, who report that six (6) bands of hostile Indians are encamped on the east side of the Little Missouri awaiting to attack this command on its return march. These Indians, four (4) in number, belong to Cheyenne Agency.

Travelled nearly north. At noon arrived at the “Belle Fourche River.” The wagons were loaded with wood and water. Our general direction is towards “Slave Butte.”

28 August 1874
‘The General obtained two (2) porcupines. March 16 quarter miles. Arrived at Camp No. 47. Abundant supply of wood, water and grass.’ [Although this is the last of the diary entries, the diary is supplemented in the published book by Calhoun’s letters.]

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Happy Birthday Roy

Roy Strong, 80 today, was once such a precocious and brilliant arts administrator that he was appointed the youngest ever director of, first, the UK’s National Portrait Gallery (NPG) and then the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) - bringing modern ideas and change to both institutions. In fact, the NPG is celebrating his birthday with an exhibition of photographs of Strong dressed as historical figures! Following his V&A years, he focused on writing, mostly popular books on history and gardening, while the arts establishment kept him at arm’s length - even more so, perhaps, after 1997 when he published his diaries, called ‘bitchy and hilarious’ by one journalist, and ‘venomous’ by The Economist.

Roy Strong was born on 23 August 1935, in Winchmore Hill, now in North London, into a poor and, by his own account, unhappy family. He attended Edmonton County School, and then Queen Mary College, University of London, before going on to work for a Ph.D at the Warburg Institute, which focuses on the influence of classical antiquity on European civilisation. Subsequently, he became a research fellow at the Institute of Historical Research. In 1959, he took up a post as assistant keeper of the NPG, and in 1967 was appointed its director, aged but 32. He set about transforming its conservative image with a series of shows, one of the most important and successful being 600 Cecil Beaton portraits - 1928-1968.

In 1971, Strong married Julia Trevelyan Oman, a television and theatre set designer. They soon moved to live at Much Birch, Herefordshire, where they created the celebrated Laskett Gardens, one of the country’s largest post-war formal gardens. In 1973, Strong became the youngest ever director of the V&A, remaining until 1987. One of his first and most memorable events was the exhibition The Destruction of the Country House, considered a landmark show for the V&A and a watershed in heritage politics (see Ruth Adams). On leaving the V&A, he focused on writing - publishing many books on British cultural history, but also on gardens, such as The Renaissance Garden in England, Creating Small Gardens, and Gardens through the Ages. Among his other books, The Spirit of Britain: A Narrative History of the Arts (1999) and Coronation: A History of Kingship and the British Monarchy (2005) have been very successful.

Julia died in 2003, but Strong has continued to publish widely. Most recently, he has been in the news because of a spat over the legacy of his Laskett Gardens. Having always said he would bequeath them to the National Trust, the Trust told him last year it did not want them - because they failed to ‘reach the high rung of historic and national importance’. In response, Strong let the media know that his will would be changed, to ensure the destruction of the gardens one year after his death (see The Telegraph, for example.)

In a 1996 profile, The Independent gave this assessment: ‘Opinions of Sir Roy have always differed and still do. To passers-by in the street, he is a harmless old buffer; to academic historians he is at best a populist, at worst a charlatan; to gender analysts he’s a puzzlingly camp heterosexual (happily married for 25 years to Julia Trevelyan Oman, the theatre designer); to gardeners he’s a godsend; to his former staff at the Victoria and Albert Museum (of which he was director for 14 years) he was a chilly martinet; to the Queen Mother he’s an affable dinner companion; to AN Wilson, who wrote a gushing encomium in the Evening Standard the other day, he’s a kind of national monument (“part of Our Island Story”) who will be admired forever. To the visiting interviewer, he’s gossipy, tremblingly fastidious and rather a crosspatch.’

For more biographical information on Strong try Wikipedia, Dictionary of Art Historians, Debretts, an autobiographical article in the Daily Mail (taken from his book, Roy Strong: Self-Portrait As A Young Man) or The Laskett Gardens website.

In 1997, Weidenfeld & Nicolson published The Roy Strong Diaries 1967-1987 (see Googlebooks). In his introduction, Strong says the diary began on 9 November 1967, five months after taking office at the National Portrait Gallery, because a lady at a dinner had suggested the idea ‘because I would meet so many interesting people’. A few ‘juvenile jottings’ followed, but the following year, the diary went in ‘a totally different direction’ because of his friendship with Cecil Beaton whose diaries were, at the time, in the process of publication. Beaton’s diaries, Strong explains, were made up of set pieces describing particular events and people or retrospective miniature essays - more concerned with the social panorama than the day-to-day technicalities of his professional life. ‘It was that type of diary which I decided to keep.’ After marriage, he adds, he stopped keeping the diary for a year or two but his wife encouraged him to take it up again. (For more on Cecil Beaton’s diaries see Nerves before a sitting.)

The diaries, Wikipedia says, became infamous for Strong’s often critical assessments of figures in the art and political worlds. The Economist said of the diaries on publication: ‘They are not particularly well written, and Sir Roy is too conceited as well as too insecure to poke fun at himself as some of the best diarists do. But his comments are as venomous, his vignettes as shrewd and his barbs as well directed as anybody’s, even Alan Clark’s.’ And later, Jan Moir in the The Telegraph said his ‘bitchy, hilarious diaries caused a storm when they were published’. According to Knight Hayton Management, Strong is currently working on preparing his more recent diaries for publication. Here, meanwhile, are a few extracts from The Roy Strong Diaries 1967-1987.

18 November 1975
‘I took Dame Bridget D’Oyly Carte, a lively and distinguished lady, out to lunch to celebrate the gift of things to the Theatre Museum. She was fascinating on the subject of Harold Wilson who was now a Trustee of the Company and had been asked to their hundredth anniversary at the Savoy Theatre. He loved it, made a speech on stage and now she needed him to help save the Company. So he keeps on ringing her up, much to her embarrassment, denouncing the elitism of Covent Garden as against the populism of Gilbert and Sullivan.’

7 April 1981
‘The opening of the exhibition of ballet costumes, Spotlight, went off with aplomb. Princess Margaret in gold embroidered ethnic red did an hour’s tour. We couldn’t find Fred Ashton, who turned up after she’d gone, seated at the bottom of a statue quaffing champagne which he loves. There was a wonderful encounter between Marie Rambert and HRH, a rare occasion when the person being presented was shorter. Spotlight is a gorgeous spectacle and everyone loves it, apart from complaints either about the lights and/or the loudness of the music.’

17 October 1984
‘The diary is very thin this year. I should have written much much more. Too much is happening. This is the first year when I have felt restless, a feeling that the V&A period is drawing to its close, but what next? That is the problem. It is not fleeing from problems, it is moving away from the same ones. Even my secretary admitted that nothing new came in any more. It was a recycling of the same old projects and problems. In other words, boredom. That is why the Times articles have been such a joy to do.’

18 June 1985
‘After a weekend of trying to cope with the V&A on the telephone picking up the debris, I returned to Monday’s Evening Standard, which had a whole-page spread on the theme ‘Has the Strong magic gone?’, lunging into the dreariness of the Museum, its sad displays, filthy restaurant, lack of signposting, et al. No one else attracts these pieces, and they could was easily have been written about the National Gallery, the British Museum or the Tate Gallery. In a way I’m not surprised, for there is no doubt that for the next eighteen months we have to go through a major dislocation in building terms in order to put things right. [. . .]

What irritates me is that it was about two years ago that this great series of works began: the Henry Cole Wing, the restoration of the Cast Court, the redisplay of the Dress Collection, the restoration of the Italian Cast Court and the front entrance hall. Then there is to follow in sequence, the Medieval Treasury, the Japanese Gallery, the Indian Gallery, the reopening of the vista laterally across the V&A. A new restaurant in fact opens in September. What more can I do?’

1 April 1987
‘The opening of the Clore Gallery. The rain fell as though Noah and his ark were due. Julia and I went to two of the openings, the first of which, very select, was in the afternoon with about a hundred and fifty and the Queen to open it. Her Majesty was dressed as usual to be seen, in red with a red boater with a feather askew to one side. She wore glasses the whole time, which may have brought her a sense of relief because she was able to see everything and everybody, although vanity is not part of her make-up. [. . .]

The evening opening took the form of a reception at 8.30 p.m., a time which normally signals sustenance, but on enquiring practically everyone established that it only meant nibbles. We were bidden in black tie none the less. Nancy Perth, on to the same ploy, rang and asked us to dinner before, so we went. I love her dearly and in spite of the fact that the dinner turned out to be tinned soup and a plate of prosciutto with a roll, there was a bottle of 1953 vintage champagne to compensate. [. . .]

Compared with twenty years ago I was struck by how few people looked extraordinary. Fashion now is so unimaginative. There was certainly an explosion of shoulders, the wider for women the better, and a great amount of beadwork and glitter in the art deco vein. Men are very dull these days. Timothy Clifford in a green velvet smoking-jacket with black frogging just looked a curiosity. The look otherwise is sharp and shiny with hair well gelled, shirt with a wing collar, and immaculate blacks, but no bizarre opulence compared with such a gathering ten or twenty years ago.’

Saturday, August 15, 2015

My imagination flies

‘I just said - “My imagination flies, like Noah’s dove, from the ark of my mind . . . and finds no place on which to rest the sole of her foot except Coleridge - Wordsworth and Southey.” ’ This is a young Thomas De Quincey, author of Confessions of English Opium-Eater, born 230 years ago today, confessing to his diary how he yearned to meet the Lake Poets. Later, of course, he would meet them; and some of his most important contributions to literature would be writing about those very poets. Unfortunately, it seems, he only kept that one diary - not published until the 20th century - for a few months in 1803.

Thomas was born in Manchester on 15 August 1785. His father, Quincey, also Thomas, was a successful merchant. In 1796, three years after the death of an elder sister and then his father, his mother moved to Bath and changed the family name to De Quincey. Thomas was enrolled in a series of schools, and proved a precocious student. During 1800-1801, he came into contact with various literary figures, and became keen on the poets Coleridge and Wordsworth. Having been refused permission to enter Oxford early, he absconded from Manchester grammar in 1802. His family, accepting the decision, allowed him one guinea a week, and he set off on a walking tour in North Wales.

De Quincey, however, soon lost his regular guinea by failing to write letters home. He borrowed money, went to London, where he preferred destitution to the prospect of family constraints
. He later claimed to have been protected and comforted, innocently, by a young prostitute whom he celebrated in Confessions. Eventually, though, in early 1803, he was found by friends, and returned home. He was sent to stay in Everton, near Liverpool, for several months, and was then allowed to go to Worcester College, Oxford, on a reduced income. On the final day of his exams in 1808, he suffered a loss of nerve, and fled to London. During his student years, he had become acquainted with Coleridge and Wordsworth, and, in 1809, moved to Grasmere, in the Lake District, where he lived in Dove Cottage (once occupied by the Wordsworths - see Daffodils so beautiful). He studied German literature, planned an ambitious philosophical work, and travelled occasionally to London or Edinburgh.

De Quincey had first tried opium during a visit to London in 1804, apparently to ease the pain of toothache. By 1813, or so, his irregular use of the drug had become a daily habit. By the following year, he had begun an affair with Margaret, 18 at the time, who bore him a child in 1816. They married the following year, and would go on to have seven more children. However, De Quincey’s meagre income was failing, so he turned to journalism, finding employment as editor for a weekly Tory newspaper, The Westmorland Gazette. He proved poor at meeting deadlines, and, after a little more than a year, he relinquished the post. A position writing for Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine was even more short-lived.

In the summer of 1821, he took lodgings in London, where he worked on Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, an account of his early life and opium addiction that appeared in the September and October issues of the London Magazine. His Confessions were an immediate success, and attracted nationwide attention. They were published in book form in 1822, and regularly reissued in his own life time, and ever since. Over the next five years, he published upwards of 20 essays for the magazine, but money problems persisted. In 1825, he was evicted from Fox Ghyll, Rydal (which he’d taken on when more money was coming in from the London Magazine), and went to live with Margaret’s parents. By 1830, the family had relocated to Edinburgh, where De Quincey was regularly contributing to Blackwood’s Magazine, but then mostly to Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine - often but a hair’s breadth from debtors’ prison.

From 1840 or so, De Quincey’s life became more stable, as his eldest daughter, Margaret, took charge of her father’s affairs and finances. Over the next decade and more, he published regularly: a series of reminiscences of the Lake Poets in Tait’s is considered one of his most important works. He also went back to Blackwood’s contributing several works including a sequel to Confesssions. From 1850, most of his work was being published by James Hogg in The Instructor. Ticknor and Fields of Boston, US, undertook to publish a collected edition of De Quincey’s works. The 22 volumes were poorly organised and flawed, which prompted Hogg to suggest that De Quincey himself work on a revised edition of his own writings. This task - including a much lengthened Confessions - took up most of the rest of his working life. It was while working on the fourteenth and last volume that he died, in 1859. Further information on De Quincey can be found at Wikipedia, Robert Morrison’s De Quincey website, reviews of Morrison’s biography (The English Opium Eater) such as at The Guardian or The Washington Post, or Notable Biographies. Confessions of an Opium-Eater is freely available at Internet Archive.

De Quincey kept a diary for a few short months, during his sojourn in Everton, before going to Oxford. It was first edited by Horace A. Eaton, Professor of English at Syracuse University in the US and published by Noel Douglas in 1927 as A Diary of Thomas De Quincey - Here reproduced in replica as well as in print from the original manuscript in the possession of the Reverend C. H. Steel. According to the book’s editor, the diary, 101 pages long, is contained in ‘a shabby little volume in quarto, with torn leaves and untidy scribbled pages, partly filled with a list of books’. Substantial further information about the diary can be found at the National Archives website. Here are a few sample extracts from the 1927 edition.

4 May 1803
‘Read 99 pages of “Accusg Spirit; - walked into the lanes; - met a fellow who counterfeited drunkenness or lunacy or idiocy; - I say counterfeited, because I am well convinced he was some vile outcast of society - a pest and disgrace to humanity. I was just on the point of hittg him a dab on his disgustg face when a gentleman (coming up) alarmed him and saved me trouble.’

5 May 1803
‘Last night I imaged to myself the heroine of the novel dying on an island of a lake, the chamber-windows (opening on a lawn) set wide open - and the sweet blooming roses breathing yr odours on her dying senses.[. . .]

Last night too I image myself looking through a glass. “What do you see?” I see a man in the dim and shadowy perspective and (as it were) in a dream. He passes along in silence, and the hues of sorrow appear on his countenance. Who is he? A man darkly wonderful - above the beings of this world; but whether that shadow of him, which you saw, be ye shadow of a man long since passed away or of one yet hid in futurity, I may not tell you.’

3 June 1803
‘Rise between 11 and 12 - go to W’s; - read out “Henry the Fourth”; (part 1st) which Mrs. E. pronounces “a very pretty play.” Almost immediately after this is finished  . . . dinner is announced; - I go without seeing Mr. W.; walk, by French prison and lane, to windmill on shore; - turn back along shore; cross over to French prison; - go to C’s; - dine there again by myself; - open a volume of the Encyclopaedia; read 2 pages of the life of Frederick the Great of Prussia . . . containing the origin of his acquaintance with Voltaire - his mode of spending the time as described by Voltaire; then read the article “French” (language) in the same volume; - open no other book; - go to W’s; ring and ask if the ladies are really gone, as they talked of doing, to Mossley; - find they are gone in spite of the rain; - walk to Everton; - find postman at door; - decypher a letter; - lend Miss B. 2s 3d to pay the postage of one; - the other (2s 2d) she leaves unpaid, though I offered to lend her the money; - both come from the coast of Africa; - Miss B. seems wild with joy; - has received money I suppose; I drink coffee.’

15 June 1803
I just said - “My imagination flies, like Noah’s dove, from the ark of my mind . . . and finds no place on which to rest the sole of her foot except Coleridge - Wordsworth and Southey.” This morning (and indeed many times before) I said - “Bacon’s mind appears to me like a great abyss - on the brink of which the imagination startles and shudders to look down” - Of that gilded fly of Corsica - Bonaparte - I said just now (what I have applied to others too - using it as a general curse) “May he be thirsty to all eternity - and have nothing but cups of damnation to drink.” ’

Friday, August 14, 2015

Shooting with Antonioni

‘I fall into bed exhausted. I dream that Jeanne Moreau wants to come out of the painting too, but for some reason I can’t do it for her. I know I’ll be dreaming of the filming for weeks to come; I always do when I’ve finished a shoot.’ This is Wim Wenders - today celebrating his 70th birthday - writing one of the last entries in his diary of an ‘extraordinary experience’ filming with the Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni.

Wenders was born in Düsseldorf on 14 August 1945, into a traditional Catholic family. His father was a surgeon. He went to school in Oberhausen, then studied medicine and philosophy in Freiburg and Düsseldorf, but dropped out of university to go to Paris to paint. It was to the film world, though, that he was soon drawn. Returning to Germany, he took a job in the Düsseldorf office of United Artists, before studying for three years (1967-1970) at Hochschule für Fernsehen und Film München  (Munich’s university for TV and film). At the same time, he wrote film reviews for national magazines, including Der Spiegel.

With other directors and writers in 1971, he founded the company Filmverlag der Autoren; and then, later, he set up his own production company, Road Movies. In 1978, he went to Hollywood to direct Hammett, but disputes with the executive producer Francis Ford Coppola, resulted in a delayed release and a truncated version. Wenders first international successes came in the 1980s, especially with films like The State of Things (1982), Paris, Texas (1984) which won him several significant awards, including the Palme d’Or and Baftas, and Wings of Desire (1987). His films are known for their lush visual imagery, much of which stems from the work of his longstanding collaborator, the Dutch cinematographer Robby Müller.

Wenders has directed several well-received documentaries, such as Buena Vista Social Club (1999), and The Soul of a Man (2003), many music videos for bands, as well as television commercials. He is a member of the advisory board of World Cinema Foundation, founded by Martin Scorsese. Alongside his film work, Wenders has also forged a major reputation as a photographer, exhibiting regularly and widely. The Wim Wenders Foundation, Düsseldorf, was created in 2012 to bring together his artistic work in film, literary and photographic fields, so as to make it publicly accessible. Among many other honours, he was presented with the Honorary Golden Bear at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival in February 2015.

A happy 70th birthday message on the official Wim Wenders website starts as follows: ‘The long and winding road. So sang the Beatles in 1970. Wim was just 25 years old then and since then what a journey it’s been. Along the way we’ve witnessed his images, words and sounds. A photographer, painter, observer, explorer, storyteller, collector and cartographer. The journey with Wim allows us to see a new world. A world that encompasses his art. And whilst not all of his portraits show people, there’s a sense of humanity we can all feel part of. Ingmar Bergman talks about the wonder of silence. Wim’s imagery instills silence and yet if we get lost on our journey his music guides us back.’ For more on Wenders see Wikipedia, Senses of Cinema, Villa e Collezione Panza, or Images Journal.

I can find no obvious evidence that Wenders is a diary keeper by nature, but for a few months in the winter of 1994-1995, he did keep a diary, with the specific purpose of recording time spent with Antononio. A decade earlier, the renowned Italian director had suffered a stroke, and lost the ability to speak or write, though he could draw with his left hand. After much negotiation, and many delays, he and his wife, Enrica, had assembled finance, actors and crew to make a last film - Beyond the Clouds - comprising four of his own stories about romance and illusion. A condition of the producers was that another director be on hand - hence Wim Wenders’ nominal role as co-diretor.

The diary kept by Wenders was first published in German in 1995, and then translated by Michael Hofmann for publication in English in 200 as My Time with Antonioni - The Diary of an Extraordinary Experience. (A few pages can be sampled at Amazon.) Wenders wrote about the project in an article for The Guardian; but what comes across most forcefully when reading Wenders’ book is the huge effort - as well as compromises in Wenders’ case - made by so many people to bring Antonioni’s vision to the screen. Here are two extracts, from the first and last entries - the first and last days of shooting - in the English edition of the diary.

3 November 1994
‘First day of shoot. At last. Because the shoot has been put back from spring to summer and now to autumn, I’ve been able to be with Michelangelo and the crew during the last week of preparations in Portofino, the location for the first episode, ‘La ragazza, il delitto’, but on the very eve of the shoot I have to be in Paris. The French edition of my book Once is coming out, and there’s an exhibition in the FNAC, press-conference and interviews, and the whole thing is due to end so late there’s no chance of getting back to Italy the same night.

There was a lovely, unexpected ending to the day when we were driven back to the hotel by Martine and Henri Cartier-Bresson. How attentive, kindly and alert the old gentleman was, always so careful not to appear ‘old’: he’d rather hold open a door himself than have it held for him.

Yesterday morning we went to see a demonstration of the latest HDTV-to-film transfer from Thomson’s, who are interested in working with Michelangelo and me. The images on screen, recorded digitally and then put on film, are really impressive, and only barely distinguishable from real film images. They might actually be the perfect language for Michelangelo to shoot his final episode, ‘Due telefaxi’. The electronic medium would match the atmosphere of the story. And wouldn’t it be appropriate, too, for Michelangelo to make the last part of his last film using the technology of the next century, seeing as he was one of the very first directors with a positive attitude to video, and was never shy of new technology? [. . .]

Today, then, the first day of the shoot, Donata and I got up bright and early, took the first plane from Paris to Milan, and drove to Portofino through mist and occasional rain, afraid the weather might make us late. But we arrive on time. The first clapboard is an hour later. The rain has delayed everything, and indeed it will dominate the day’s events.

First off, big excitement, not least among the producers: it appears that the moment he got on set, Michelangelo announced that everything is being changed around, so it’s not John Malkovich who’s going to come out the door and walk down into town, but Sophie Marceau. That means changing the bedroom, where we’re going to film later, from a ‘man’s room’ to a woman’s. ‘Here we go . . .’ you can see the producers thinking. But on closer inspection, the change makes sense. Michelangelo just hadn’t been in a position before to clear up our misunderstanding. It often seemed to me in our discussions that it was simply too much of an effort for him to make his intentions clear to us, and so occasionally he left us under some misapprehension, fully knowing that the moment of truth would dawn once we were filming. Also, Michelangelo has trouble differentiating between ‘he’ and ‘she’ when speaking, so we were often uncertain whether he was talking about the male or the female character in a story. [. . .]

Having this huge crew and these actors assembled here - all of us ready to give everything we have over the coming weeks - to make a film out of this shooting script and this schedule is Enrica’s personal triumph. And today, on the first day of the shoot, there she is standing in front of the monitors next to Michelangelo, beaming all over her face. Of course everyone is making a fuss of him, but we know that Erica was and is the driving force behind him. A great dream is becoming reality, for both of them. Now it is up to us to sustain the dream to the end, so there is no rude awakening.

In looking for my own niche, I keep in the background, and leave various initiatives and suggestions with Michelangelo’s helpers [. . .] I will have succeeded in my task if I find the right balance between staying out of it and, where absolutely necessary, taking a hand. And above all, I need to learn to keep my own ideas on how I would shoot a scene to myself, because they’re not helpful in this situation.[. . .]

I take a few stills photographs, with the Fuji 6x9, rather sheepishly. Donata dusts off her new Nikon F4 and takes some pictures of the shoot and the crew, in black and white. I’m sticking to colour.

It’s very late, and I feel totally exhausted. Being at a shoot without being in charge is much more taxing than I had imagined.

Over supper we laughed till we cried while Tonino regaled us with the story of how Fellini was the first person who managed to get food stains on his back while eating. Tonino demonstrated how Fellini broke a roll in half, and a piece of mortadella flew up in the air and landed between his shoulderblades. He kept imitating Fellini standing there, with the slice of meat sticking to his back, worrying about how cross Giulletta would be when she’d get to hear about his foolish adventure.’

29 March 1995
‘Sixty-fourth day of shoot. The last day. My shoot ends on the day all the newspapers are carrying photographs of Michelangelo with Jack Nicholson. They’re all full of reports of Oscar night, and I buy all the newspapers I can lay my hands on, especially the Italian ones. [. . .]

My first thanks are due to Robby and Donata. As the evening goes on, with all of us eating at a buffet in a hall off the studio, it gradually sinks in that this adventure is over for the moment. There’s still the editing and the post-production to come, but they can’t be as risky or as onerous as the shooting.

Someone turns up the music, and we dance ourselves off our feet.

I fall into bed exhausted. I dream that Jeanne Moreau wants to come out of the painting too, but for some reason I can’t do it for her. I know I’ll be dreaming of the filming for weeks to come; I always do when I’ve finished a shoot. And they’re always dreams where something impossible has to be done, too. I’ve never been on a shoot where I haven’t been plagued by these nightmares afterwards.’ [See Jonathan Rosenblaum’s blog for a review of the film, and for an interesting take on the Moreau scenes].

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Missing Tom and Kate

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the death of the British mountain climber, Alison Hargreaves. Having scaled Everest without the aid of sherpas or bottled oxygen, she was intent on completing similar climbs of the second and third highest mountains, K2 and Kangchenjunga, but she died on the descent from the K2 summit. Her diaries, as used by David Rose and Ed Douglas in their biography, Regions of the Heart, reveal a woman constantly torn between love of her two children and her obsession not only to climb, but to make her mark as a mountain climber.

Hargreaves was born in 1962, and grew up in Belper, Derbyshire, the middle child of three. Her family were often out walking on the English hills, and aged nine she had raced ahead of them to be the first to the summit of Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis. She was introduced to rock climbing aged 13, preferring to climb than to study for Oxford as her parents had done. Aged 16, while working in a climbing shop, she met amateur climber Jim Ballard, nearly twice her age. She left home two years later to live with him. The couple ran an outdoor equipment shop, while Hargreaves trained and climbed in her spare time. By her mid-20s, she had climbed in the Himalayas, but in 1988 - the year she married Jim - she was back in the Alps, notably climbing the north face of the Eiger while six months pregnant with Tom. Her second child, Kate, was born two years later.

By 1993, Alison and Jim were in so much debt they had to leave their house. They relocated to live in Switzerland, in an old Land Rover, so that Hargreaves could continue to climb. That year she became the first person ever to scale the six north faces of the Alps alone and in one season. This brought her media and sponsorship attention. She wrote a book about the feat - A Hard Day’s Summer - but it was poorly received, and money problems continued.

Hargreaves decided that her next project - for personal and financial reasons - should be Everest. She bailed on a first attempt in 1994 fearing frostbite, but a second attempt in May 1995 succeeded, making her the first woman to reach the summit alone and without supplementary oxygen (the first man was Reinhold Messner - see Death on Nanga Parbat). She quickly made further plans to conquer the second two highest mountains in the world (K2 and Kangchenjunga). After a brief trip back to see her family in the UK, she returned to the Himalayas in June to join an American team with a permit to climb K2. For weeks, stormy weather kept the team at base camp. By August, remnants of the team had joined up with members of other teams from Canada and New Zealand. Peter Hillary,
 son of Edmund who along with Tenzing Norgay completed the first successful ascent of Mount Everest (see On top of Mount Everest), was also there with a Spanish team.

On 13 August, Hillary decided to turn back and go down, forecasting a change in weather conditions. However, Hargreaves and Spaniard Javier Olivar saw fine weather and made for the summit, reaching it at 6.45pm, making Hargreaves the first woman to conquer both Everest and K2 without supplemental oxygen or support. Four other climbers reached the summit behind them; but then all six died in a violent storm on the way down. A seventh climber that had turned back below the summit died later from the effects of exposure. The next day two other Spanish climbers, lower down, saw debris equipment, and a body in the distance, and concluded it was Hargreaves who had been blown off the mountain in the storm.

Hilary, in an interview with The Independent, noted that a bizarre chemistry had developed among the several expeditions on the mountain ‘that meant they were going for the summit no matter what’. Of Alison, in particular, he said: ‘[She] was a brilliant climber but she had tremendous commercial pressures on her and she became obsessed. When you spoke to her it was clear that climbing came first and everything else was secondary.’

Further information is available from Wikipedia,, a Guardian interview with Jim Ballard, the BBC, or The Independent’s obituary. Alison and Jim’s son, Tom, has been in the news recently, since he became the first person to climb solo all six major north faces of the Alps in one winter - see The Telegraph, for example.

Hargreaves left behind a large volume of diary material which, apparently, were fought over by her husband on one side and her parents on the other. In any case, two journalist/climbers, David Rose and Ed Douglas were given access to them for their sympathetic biography Regions of the Heart - The Triumph and Tragedy of Alison Hargreaves (Michael Joseph, 1999).

The authors say: ‘Alison’s diaries provide a record of her life which is well in excess of a million words. For the period 1973-92, the quotations from them found here were copied by us from the originals, which were left at Meerbrook Lea when the house was repossessed in 1993 and rescued by her parents. Later diary entries were published in her own A Hard Day’s Summer (Hodder & Stoughton, 1994) and Jim Ballard’s One and two Halves to K2 (BBC Books, 1996).’

Unfortunately, their book quotes very few actual diary entries, and rarely do they come referenced with a date. The following diary-focused extracts in Regions of the Heart can all be found in the last chapter, Nemesis.

‘I’ve been missing Tom and Kate today,’ she wrote in her diary as early as 3 July, ‘probably because I have had time to think about them. I’ve half felt like not wanting really to stay and finish this “job off” - but I don’t know if or when I’ll get another chance, so I might regret it.’

‘Cooney remembers her returning in tears on 11 July from one of the agonizingly short telephone calls she made on the satellite phone to her children. ‘I spoke for two and a half minutes,’ she wrote miserably in her diary.’ ’

‘I am feeling pressure back home,’ she wrote in her diary on 5 August at the height of her crisis. ‘Why I failed, what went wrong. Personally it doesn’t matter but I worry about how everyone else will see it.’ Except, of course, that how others saw her was very important indeed to her self-esteem, and for Alison failure was bitterly personal.’

‘On 5 August, with the porters ready to start carrying her equipment down the glacier next day, she wrote of how she missed the children. She’d now spent more than a hundred days of 1995 away from Tom and Kate. Yet there was still a desire for the mountain, too. ‘It eats away at me - wanting the children and wanting K2,’ she wrote. ‘I feel like I’m pulled in two. Maybe they’d be happier if Mum was around but maybe summiting K2 would help make a better future for them. Long term, having me back safe and sound is surely more important.’ ’ [It’s not clear from the authors’ text whether this last is an actual diary entry or not.]

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Hookers of Kew

Sir William Jackson Hooker, one of the most important British botanists of the 19th century, died 150 years ago today. The anniversary is being celebrated by Kew Gardens - Hooker was its first official director, and he did much to expand and develop the royal botanic gardens. His son, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker became an even more eminent botanist, a close of friend of Charles Darwin, and the successor to his father at Kew. Although father and son were not diarists as such, journals of their botanical expeditions have been published.

Hooker was born in Norwich, England, in 1785. His father, Joseph, was a confidential clerk and amateur botanist. William was educated at Norwich grammar school and then attended Startson Hall to study estate management. Aged 21, he inherited the estate of his godfather, a wealthy brewer and farmer. By this time, he had already become a keen botanist and entomologist, an obsession that his inheritance would help finance. As early as 1805, he found a species of moss not previously recorded in Britain. The following year he was elected to the Linnean Society, and a year or two later he made his first foreign botanical expedition, to Iceland. Although his notes and drawings were destroyed by fire on the way home, he still managed to produce, and circulate a privately printed journal of the tour.

Hooker invested considerably in a planned tour to Ceylon with Sir Robert Brownrigg, but the project was abandoned. In 1814, he spent nine months on excursion in France, Switzerland and Italy. The year after, he married Maria Dawson Turner (sister-in-law of the historian Francis Palgrave), and they settled at Halesworth, Suffolk, where he built an herbarium that, in time, gained an international reputation. Various scientific publications followed in the 1810s: British Jungermanniae, a new edition of William Curtis’s Flora Londinensis, for which he wrote the descriptions, and Muscologia, an account of the mosses of Britain and Ireland, prepared in conjunction with Thomas Taylor.

In 1820, Hooker became the regius professorship of botany in the University of Glasgow, and he worked with the botanist Thomas Hopkirk to establish the Royal Botanic Institution of Glasgow and to develop the Glasgow Botanic Gardens. He also published Flora Scotica. Hooker was able to convince the British government that botanists should be appointed to expeditions, and subsequently his herbarium profited from samples brought back from all parts of the globe.

In 1836, he was made a Knight of Hanover, and in 1841 he was appointed the first full-time director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Under his direction the gardens expanded to 75 acres, with an arboretum of 270 acres, and many new glass-houses erected. He died on 12 August 1865; and was succeeded at Kew by his son Joseph Dalton, who had already become famous as a botanist and botanical explorer, and who, like his father, would be knighted. In accordance with William Hooker’s will, his herbarium and library were offered for sale to the nation, and were purchased for Kew in 1866; they contained over one million herbarium specimens, 4,000 volumes of publications, and about 29,000 letters from over 4,400 correspondents. Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia, Parks and Gardens UK, or Kew’s website.

Hooker published extensively through his life. One of his early books, in the first instance printed and circulated privately in 1811, was called Journal of a Tour in Iceland in the Summer of 1809. However, as most of his papers (and all but a few weeks of his journal) had been lost in a fire on board the return vessel, the book is mostly based on his recollections. He put together Niger Flora, ‘an enumeration of the plants of western tropical Africa, collected by the late Dr. Theodore Vogel’ in 1841, which includes Vogel’s diary of the voyage. Hooker was very keen on publishing academic botanic journals. There was The Journal of Botany (1830-1842), The London Journal of Botany (1842-1848), and Hooker’s Journal of Botany and Kew Garden Miscellany (1949-1857).

Most of the very first volume of the latter (Hooker’s Journal of Botany - Kew Garden Miscellany Vol 1, Reeve, Benham, and Reeve, 1849) is taken up with a diary kept by his son, Joseph, and sent as letters, during his long expedition to India and the Himalayas in 1847-1851. This was later published as Himalayan Journals in 1854. Here are a couple of extracts from Joseph Hooker’s diary as found in Hooker’s Journal of Botany.

7 March 1848
‘Left my kind friend Mr. Felle’s house for Amoee, en route for Miraapore, myself mounted on an elephant of the Rajah’s, and my goods on Mr. Felle’s camels. Passed through Goorawul, a large village twelve miles due west of Shahgung. The road to it lay over a very flat monotonous country. Thence turning north, in a direction crossing the table-land, the country began to undulate and become more barren, with noble Mahoua trees and a few Fici, the former resembling oaks; and with the sandstone cropping out on the surface, I was occasionally much reminded of scenery in the forest of Dean. Sterile tracts, with their typical trees, alternate with cultivated fields, whose accompaniments are the Tamarind and Mango.

Many of the exposed slabs of sandstone are beautifully waved with the ripple-mark, like small specimens seen at Rotas.

Amoee, where I arrived at nine p.m., was an open grassy flat, about twenty miles from the Ganges, along whose course the dust clouds were coursing.

Mr. Monney, the magistrate of Mirzapore, kindly sent a mounted messenger to meet me here, the finest-looking fellow I had seen for a long time, wearing a brilliant scarlet surtout and white turban. He was a very active fellow, equally proud of his master (with good reason) and his horse; but he had vast trouble in getting bearers for my Palkee, which, after being carted for so long, was now to take its turn in carting me. Those he did procure (eight) carried me (for the greater part of the way) and the Palkee the whole twenty-two miles in eight hours, over very bad and stony paths, and down the ghaut, which is, however, an excellent road.

To the top of the ghaut the country was nearly level (and here called the Bind hills). There I saw for the first time the Ganges, rolling along the plains, through a forest of green trees, among which the white houses, domes, and temples of Mirzapore were scattered in every direction.

Unlike the Dunwah pass, this, to the level of the Ganges, is wholly barren. At the foot the sun was intensely hot, the roads rocky or smothered with dust by turns, the villages crowded with a widely different looking race from those of the hills, and the whole air of the outskirts, in a sultry afternoon, far from agreeable.

Mirzapore is, however, an exceedingly pretty, a moderately cool, and very pleasant station, especially the geographically east, but socially speaking west-end, which runs along the banks of the Ganges, and whither I proceeded to the house of my friend Mr. Claude Hamilton, where I received a most cordial welcome.

Mirzapore is celebrated for its manufactory of carpets (of a kind like our dining-room one), which are admirable looking, and in all respects save durability I am told are equal to the English. Indigo seed from Bundelkund is also a most extensive article of commerce, the best coming from the Doab, and lac. For cotton, sugar, and saltpetre, it is the greatest mart in India. Bundelkund indigo seed is good and larger but not equal to the Doab. The articles of native manufacture are brass washing and cooking utensils, and stone deities worked out of the sandstone.

There is little native vegetation, the country being covered with cultivation and extensive groves of Mango, and occasionally of Guava. English vegetables are abundant and excellent, and the strawberries rival in size the European fruit, but hardly in flavour.

The atmosphere is extremely dry and electrical, the hair constantly crackling when combed. Further west, where the country is still drier, the electricity of the air is even greater. Griffiths mentions that in filling his barometer tubes in Affghanistan, he constantly experienced a shock.

Here I had the pleasure of meeting Lieut. Ward, one of the assistant suppressors of Thugge (Thuggee, in Hindostan, signifying a deceiver, fraud, not open force being employed). This gentleman kindly showed me the approvers or king’s evidence, of his establishment, belonging to those three classes of human scourges, the Thug, Dakoit, and Poisoner. Of these the first was the Thug, a mild-looking man, who was born and bred to the profession: he has committed many murders, sees no harm in them, and feels neither shame nor remorse. His organs of observation and destructiveness were large, and the cerebellum small. He explained to me how the gang waylay the unwary traveller, enter into conversation with him, and have him suddenly seized, when the superior whips off his own linen girdle, throws it round the victim’s neck and strangles him, pressing the knuckles against the spine. Taking off his own cummerbund, he passed it round my arm (not neck) and showed me the turn as coolly as a sailor once taught me the hangman’s knot. The Thug is of any caste, and belongs to any part of India. The profession have particular stations, where they generally murder, throwing the body into a well. The Dakoit (dakhee, a robber) is one of a class who rob in gangs, but never commit murder - arson and housebreaking are also their profession. These are all high-class Rajpoots, originally from Guzerat, who, on being conquered, vowed vengeance on mankind. They talk both Hindostanee and the otherwise extinct Guzerat language. This latter the Dakoit spoke to me: it was guttural in the extreme, and very singular in sound. These are a very remarkable people, found all over India, and called by various names, as Buddacks (butchers), Sear Marwa, or Shighal Khof (jackall-eaters in pure Persian, i.e., a barbarian with no prejudice against the unclean). The women dress peculiarly, and are utterly devoid of modesty. The specimen I examined was a short, square, but far from powerful Nepalese, with high arched eye-brows, and no organs of observation. These people are great cowards. The poisoners all belong to one caste of Pasie, or dealers in toddy: they go singly or in gangs, haunting the travellers’ resting places, where they drop half a rupee weight of pounded or whole Datura seeds into his food, producing a twenty-four hours’ intoxication, during which he is robbed, and left to recover or sink under the stupifying effects of the narcotic. He told me that the Datura seed is gathered at any time, place, or age of the plant. He was a dirty, ill-conditioned looking fellow, with no bumps behind his ears, or prominence of eyebrow region, but an undeniable cerebellum.

As you may care to hear more of these celebrated Thugs, I will give you what information I picked up. (All this and better, too, you will find in Sleeman’s Reports). Though now all but extinct (except in Cuttack), through ten or fifteen years of increasing vigilance on the part of our Government, and incredible activity and acuteness on the officers employed, they were till then a wonderfully numerous body, who abstained from their vocation solely in the immediate neighbourhood of their own villages. These villages, however, were not exempt from the visits of other Thugs; so that, as Major Sleeman says, “The annually returning tide of murder swept unsparingly over the whole face of India, from the Sutledge to the sea-coast, and from the Himalaya to Cape Oomorin. One narrow district alone was free, the Concan, beyond the ghauts, whither they never penetrated.” In Bengal, river Thugs, of whom I shall tell you hereafter, replace the travelling practitioner. Khandush and Bohilcund alone harboured no Thugs as residents, but they were nevertheless haunted by the gangs.

Their origin is uncertain, but supposed to be very early, soon after the Mahommedan conquest. They now claim a divine original, and are supposed to have supernatural powers, and to be the emissaries of the divinity, like the wolf, the tiger, and the bear. It is only lately that they have swarmed so prodigiously, - seven original gangs having migrated from Delhi to the Gangetic provinces about 200 years ago, and from these all the rest have sprung. Many belong to the most amiable, intelligent and respectable classes of the lower and even middle ranks: they love their profession, regard murder as sport, and are never haunted with dreams, or troubled with pangs of conscience during hours of solitude, or in the last moments of life. The victim is an acceptable sacrifice to the Goddess Davee, who by some classes is supposed to eat the lifeless body, and thus save her votaries the necessity of coucealing it.

They are extremely superstitious, always consulting omens, such as the direction in which a hare or jackall crosses the road; and even far more trivial circumstances will determine the fate of a dozen of people, and perhaps an immense treasure. All worship the pick-axe, which is symbolical of their profession, and an oath sworn on it binds closer than on the Koran. The consecration of this weapon is a most elaborate ceremony, and takes place only under certain trees. They rise through various grades to the highest of strangler; the lowest are scouts; second, sextons; the third are holders of the victims’ hands.

Though all agree in never practising cruelty, or robbing previous to murder, - never allowing any but infants to escape, and these are trained to Thuggee, - and never leaving a trace of such goods as may be identified, - there are several variations in their mode of conducting operations. Some tribes spare certain castes, others none: murder of woman is against all rules; but the practice crept into certain gangs, and this it is which led to their discountenance by the Goddess Davee, and the consequent downfall of tbe system. Davee, they say, allowed the British to punish them, because a certain gang had murdered the mothers to obtain their daughters to be sold to prostitution. [. . .]’

16 March 1848
‘We arrived at Benares. The Ganges is here a broad stream, and rises 43 feet during the rains, with a current of eight miles an hour, and, I am informed, carries along one-quarter per cent, of sediment. The fall from hence is 300 feet to the junction of the Ganges and Hooghly, which is one foot to every hundred miles. My observations make the fall from Mirzapore to Benares very much greater.

Benares is the Athens of India. The variety of buildings along the bank is incredible. There are temples of all shapes, in all stages of completeness, and at all angles of inclination; for the banks give way so much that many of these edifices are fearfully out of the perpendicular. It is a most quaint river-frontage; and perhaps, to a long resident in India, it may look magnificent; but I was much disappointed. As an eastern city it is incomparably inferior to Cairo. [. . .]

The general appearance of an oriental town is always more or less ruinous; and here there was nothing to be seen of architecture but crumbling house-tops beyond the banks of the river. The eye is fatigued with pigeons, parrots, pots, plaster, pan-tiles, the ear with prayer-bells and Poojahs; whilst the Peepul and Parkimonia are the only green things to be seen on this side of the bright meadows and green trees which adorn the European residents’ dwellings, some four miles back from the river. The streets are so narrow, that it is difficult to ride a horse through them; and the houses are often six stories high, with galleries crossing above, from house to house. These tall, gaunt edifices sometimes give place to clumps of cottages, and a mass of dusty ruins, the unsavoury retreats of vermin and filth.’

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Along the Rocky river

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Edward John Eyre, a rather extraordinary character who travelled to Australia when still a teenager, tried out sheep farming, but then made a name for himself as an explorer and by managing relations between settlers and aborigines. Determined on a career as a colonial administrator, he moved from minor post to minor post but proved rather incompetent. During his final posting in Jamaica, his government was responsible for quashing a rebellion and causing hundreds of deaths in the process. These events led to a huge controversy in Britain, with some calling for Eyre to be prosecuted for murder, and others believing he had saved Jamaica for the empire. There is no evidence he was a diarist by nature, but he did keep a journal on his most important expedition across South Australia from Adelaide to Albany.

Eyre was born into a religious family in Bedfordshire on 5 August 1815, although soon after his family moved to Hornsea, Yorkshire. He was schooled at Louth and Sedbergh, but left at 16 intent on joining the army. Before his papers came through, however, his father suggested Australia as an alternative. He travelled there, when still only 17, with £400 capital, and took work with a sheep farmer in New South Wales (NSW). He tried to establish his own sheep farm but when this failed he turned to overlanding, i.e. driving sheep and cattle from NSW to new settlements in South Australia. This gave him a thirst for exploring. His first expedition lasted six months, and the second, from Adelaide to Albany in Western Australia, a year.

Although this last expedition ruined him financially, Eyre returned to Adelaide something of a hero, and with considerable experience of aborigines. The governor of South Australia, appointed him magistrate and protector of the aborigines. Unlike many settlers, he believed that it was possible for Europeans to co-exist with the aborigines, and he proved a great success in the job. In 1845, he published Manners and Customs of the Aborigines of Australia. That same year, he returned to England and found appointment as lieutenant-governor of the South Island of New Zealand. He sailed for New Zealand at the beginning of 1847, and remained until 1853. However, he was not particularly suited to public office, socially shy and physically awkward, according to biographers; and he was hindered by difficult relations with the settlers and with the governor, Sir George Grey. Adelaide Ormond, who he had met in England, sailed out to marry him in 1850. They would have five children.

In late 1854, Eyre became lieutenant-governor of the island of St Vincent. The couple returned to England on leave in 1857, but Adelaide stayed behind when her husband went back. In 1859, he was appointed temporary governor of Leeward Islands, based in Antigua, before once again returning home the following year. His next appointment was as acting governor of Jamaica, and then, in 1864, as governor-in-chief. The following year, he was faced with a serious riot by hundreds of black people at Morant Bay, and responded by declaring martial law in parts of the country. Government forces dealt with the unrest forcefully, killing or executing over 500 people in the process. George William Gordon, a coloured local politician who had long been a pain in Eyre’s side, was considered responsible for the rebellion, and was soon arrested, tried and hanged. While Eyre was hailed as a hero among the whites in Jamaica, in England he was heavily criticised. A royal commission was set up to look into the rebellion and subsequent events. It proved highly critical of Eyre, and he was dismissed from his post.

On returning home, Eyre’s role in the Morant Bay Rebellion and its aftermath caused great controversy. Some (including Charles Darwin and Thomas Huxley) called for him to be indicted for murder; others (such as Charles Dickens and John Ruskin), however, believed he had saved Jamaica for the empire. He managed to avoid prosecution by the government; and he was exonerated in a case brought against him in civil court. Although not offered another post, he did eventually secure a pension, and retired to live a quiet life in Devon. He died in 1901. Further information is available from Wikipedia, the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Excellent Explorers, or from The Life of Edward John Eyre by Hamilton Hume (1867) available at Internet Archive.

Encyclopaedia of New Zealand (1966), which bizarrely gives Yorkshire as Eyre’s place of birth and death, gives this assessment of the man: ‘Eyre was stubborn, obstinate, and unteachable. These qualities, however necessary for the explorer of parched continents, were positive disqualifications for an administrator. In New Zealand he could not do much harm - in fact, he was merely a rather pathetic figure of fun - but in Jamaica nemesis overtook him and he played out his tragedy with the world for his audience. But Carlyle’s view of him as a “hero” possibly penetrates further to the truth than his opponents' conception of him as simply the villain of the piece.’

During his time as an explorer in Australia, Eyre kept diaries, and he prepared them for publication while en route to London by ship in 1844. They were published in two volumes by T & W Boone in 1845 under the title Journals of Expeditions of Discovery into Central Australia, and Overland from Adelaide to King George’s Sound, in the years 1840-1. The volumes are freely available at Project Gutenberg or the University of Adelaide website. Here are several extracts.

27 June 1840
‘In crossing the southern extremity of these large plains, we came suddenly upon a small party of natives engaged in digging yams of which the plains were full; they were so intent upon their occupation that we were close to them before they were aware of our presence; when they saw us they appeared to be surprised and alarmed, and endeavoured to steal off as rapidly as they could without fairly taking to their heels, for they were evidently either unwilling or afraid to run; finding that we did not molest them they halted, and informed us by signs that we should soon come to water, in the direction we were going. This I knew to be true, and about three o’clock we were in front of a water-course, I had on a former journey named the “Rocky river,” from the ragged character of its bed where we struck it.

We had been travelling for some distance upon a high level open country, and now came to a sudden gorge of several hundred feet below us, through which the Rocky river wound its course. It was a most singular and wild looking place, and was not inaptly named by the men, the “Devil’s Glen;” looking down from the table land we were upon, the valley beneath appeared occupied by a hundred little hills of steep ascent and rounded summits, whilst through their pretty glens, flowed the winding stream, shaded by many a tree and shrub - the whole forming a most interesting and picturesque scene.

The bed of the watercourse was over an earthy slate, and the water had a sweetish taste. Like most of the Australian rivers, it consisted only of ponds connected by a running stream, and even that ceased to flow a little beyond where we struck it, being lost in the deep sandy channel which it then assumed, and which exhibited in many places traces of very high floods. Below our camp the banks were 50 to 60 feet high, and the width from 60 to 100 yards, its course lay through plains to the south-west, over which patches of scrub were scattered at intervals, and the land in its vicinity was of an inferior description, with much prickly grass growing upon it.

Upwards, the Rocky river, after emerging from the gorges in which we found it, descended through very extensive plains from the north-north-east; there was plenty of water in its bed, and abundance of grass over the plains, so that in its upper parts it offers fine and extensive runs for either cattle or sheep, and will, I have no doubt, ere many years be past, be fully occupied for pastoral purposes.’

19 September 1840
‘This morning I unloaded the dray of every thing except the water casks, and pitching my tent among the scrub took up my quarters alone, whilst I sent back the man, the native boy, the dray, and all the horses with Mr. Scott to Baxter’s range. As they made an early start, I gave them instructions to push on as rapidly as possible, so as to get the range that night, to rest the horses next day and fill the casks with water, and on the third day, if possible, to return the whole distance and rejoin me.

Having seen them fairly away, I occupied myself in writing and charting during the day, and at night amused myself in taking stellar observations for latitude. I had already taken the altitude of Vega, and deduced the latitude to be 32 degrees 3 minutes 23 seconds S.; leaving my artificial horizon on the ground outside whilst I remained in the tent waiting until Altair came to the meridian, I then took my sextant and went out to observe this star also; but upon putting down my hand to take hold of the horizon glass in order to wipe the dew off, my fingers went into the quick-silver - the horizon glass was gone, and also the piece of canvass I had put on the ground to lie down upon whilst observing so low an altitude as that of Vega. Searching a little more I missed a spade, a parcel of horse shoes, an axe, a tin dish, some ropes, a grubbing hoe, and several smaller things which had been left outside the tent, as not being likely to take any injury from the damp.

It was evident I was surrounded by natives, who had stolen all these things during the short time I had been in my tent, certainly not exceeding half an hour. The night was very windy and I had heard nothing, besides I was encamped in the midst of a very dense brush of large wide-spreading tea-trees and other bushes, any of which would afford a screen for a considerable number of natives. In daylight it was impossible to see many yards in distance, and nothing could be discerned at night. The natives must have watched the dray go away in the morning, and waited until dark for their opportunity to rob me; and most daringly and effectually had they done it. At the time that I lay on the ground, taking the star’s altitude, they must have been close to me, and after I went into the tent, they doubtless saw me sitting there by the light of the candle, since the door was not quite closed, and they had come quite in front to obtain some of the things they had stolen. The only wonder with me was that they had not speared me, as they could scarcely have been intimidated by my individual presence.

As soon as I missed my horizon glass, and entertained the suspicion of natives being about, I hurried into the tent and lighting a large blue light, run with it rapidly through the bushes around me. The effect of this was very beautiful amidst the darkness and gloom of the woods, and for a great distance in every direction objects could be seen as well as by day; the natives, however, were gone, and I could only console myself by firing a couple of balls after them through the underwood to warn them of the danger of intruding upon me again; I then put every thing which had been left outside, into the tent, and kept watch for an hour or two, but my visitors came no more. The shots, or the blue light, had effectually frightened them. They had, however, in their turn, produced as great an effect upon me, and had at least deprived me of one night’s rest.’

20 September 1840
‘Rising very early I set to work, with an axe, to clear away the bushes from around my tent. I now discovered that the natives had been concealed behind a large tea-tree not twenty yards from the tent; there were numerous foot-marks there, and the remains of fire-sticks which they had brought with them, for a native rarely moves at night without fire.

By working hard I cleared a large circle with a radius of from thirty to forty yards, and then piling up all the bushes outside and around the tent, which was in the centre, I was completely fortified, and my sable friends could no longer creep upon me to steal without my hearing them. I spent great part of the day in charting, and took a few angles from the tent, but did not dare to venture far away. At night, when it was dark, I mounted guard with my gun for three hours, walking round outside the tent, and firing off my gun before I lay down, which I did with my clothes on, ready to get up at a moment’s notice. Nothing, however, disturbed me.’

21 September 1840
‘I had been occupied during the greater part of the day in charting, and in the evening was just shouldering my gun to mount guard again, when I was delighted to see Mr. Scott returning with the dray, and the party all safe. They had executed the duty entrusted to them well, and had lost no time in rejoining me; the horses were, however, somewhat fatigued, having come all the way from the range in one day. Being now reinforced, I had no longer occasion to mount guard, and for the first time since the natives had stolen upon me, enjoyed a sound sleep.’

18 May 1841
‘This morning we had to travel upon a soft heavy beach, and moved slowly and with difficulty along, and three of the horses were continually attempting to lie down on the road. At twelve miles, we found some nice green grass, and although we could not procure water here, I determined to halt for the sake of the horses. The weather was cool and pleasant. From our camp Mount Ragged bore N. 35 degrees W., and the island we had seen for the last two days, E. 18 degrees S. Having seen some large kangaroos near our camp, I sent Wylie with the rifle to try and get one. At dark he returned bringing home a young one, large enough for two good meals; upon this we feasted at night, and for once Wylie admitted that his belly was full. He commenced by eating a pound and a half of horse-flesh, and a little bread, he then ate the entrails, paunch, liver, lights, tail, and two hind legs of the young kangaroo, next followed a penguin, that he had found dead upon the beach, upon this he forced down the whole of the hide of the kangaroo after singeing the hair off, and wound up this meal by swallowing the tough skin of the penguin; he then made a little fire, and laid down to sleep, and dream of the pleasures of eating, nor do I think he was ever happier in his life than at that moment.’

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The slurs of vessel owners

‘The trial comes on this week. I am to defend the mate; and that I can do with a clear conscience, for I believe him innocent even of an unjustifiable assault; but to stand by in silence and see a guilty man escape, when the weapon to convict him is in my own hand, is hard indeed.’ This is the American lawyer Richard Henry Dana Jr, born 200 years ago today, writing in his diary about the case of a ‘poor negro’ who had died from flogging on board a ship. Although the ship’s mate, being defended by Dana, had told him who was guilty he refused to testify to this in court. The diaries are said to provide one of the fullest portrayals available of the social life of a well-connected Boston family of the time.

Dana was born on 1 August 1815 at Cambridge, Massachusetts, into a distinguished New England family. His father - also Richard Henry - was a lawyer and a pioneer of American literature. Dana Jr was first schooled in Cambridgeport, then in a private school overseen by Ralph Waldo Emerson. In 1831, he enrolled at Harvard College, where he was given a six-month suspension for taking part in a protest. He contracted measles, followed by ophthalmia. Thinking it would help his failing vision to go to sea, he enlisted as a merchant seaman, on a brig called Pilgrim leaving Boston and bound for Alta California, then part of Mexico. On witnessing floggings, he vowed to try to help improve conditions for seamen. For much of the time in California, he was curing hides and loading them onto ships. He returned two years later on another vessel, the Alert, experiencing terrifying weather conditions.

Dana then enrolled in Dane (now Harvard) Law School, and was admitted to the bar in 1840. That same year he succeeded, after various attempts, to publish a book - Two Years Before the Mist - based on diaries he had kept during his experience as a merchant seaman. The book (available at Internet Archive) has become a classic of American literature. Essayist Morris Wright wrote, in a 1960s edition of the book, that it was ‘conceived as a protest and written to improve the lot of the common sailor’; and he also claims it influenced Herman Melville (who was born on the same day as Dana but four years later, and who would write Moby Dick a decade after Dana’s book). In 1841, Dana published The Seaman’s Friend, an authoritative guide to the legal rights and duties of sailors. The same year he married Sarah Watson; they had four daughters and one son.

Dana went on to specialise in maritime law, but also to become involved in the abolition movement, helping to found the anti-slavery Free Soil Party in 1848, and to offer free legal aid to black people captured under the Fugitive Slave Law. In 1859, he travelled to Cuba, while the US was trying to decide whether to annex it or not, and subsequently published To Cuba and Back. During the Civil War, he served as a US Attorney, and successfully argued before the Supreme Court that the US government could rightfully blockade Confederate ports. In the late 1860s, he was a member of the Massachusetts legislature; and he also acted as a US counsel in the trial of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. In 1976, President Ulysses S. Grant named him ambassador to Great Britain, but the Senate refused to confirm the appointment, partly because of a lawsuit for plagiarism brought against him concerning a legal textbook he had edited.

Dana retired from his law practice in 1878, and spent much of the rest of his life travelling. In 1881, he moved with his family to Rome, where he died the following year. Further biographical information can be found at Wikipedia, The Maritime Heritage Project, Mark Winthrop’s web pages, and Tom Tylers web pages.

Dana kept a diary for much of his life, extracts of which are liberally sprinkled through a two volume biography, edited by Charles Francis Adams and published, in two volumes in 1890, by Houghton, Mifflin. These are freely available at Internet Archive. In the 1960s, though, Harvard University Press (HUP) published a three volume edition of Dana’s journals, annotated by Robert F. Lucid. These contain, according to HUP, Dana’s diaries, begun in 1841 and continued through to 1860, in their ‘entirety’. (However, Dana clearly kept diaries before this date, since it is well known he used those he kept during his 1934-1936 seaman days to write Two Years Before the Mist.) According to HUP: ‘the Journal provides graphic descriptions of Dana’s important legal cases, political and social activities and, in the process, one of the fullest portrayals available of the social life of a well-connected Boston family of the time.’

Here are a few extracts from Dana’s diaries taken from the first volume of Adams’ 1890 biography.

18 January 1842
‘Nothing talked of but Dickens’ arrival. The town is mad. All calling on him. I shan’t go unless sent for. I can’t submit to sink the equality of a gentleman by crowding after a man of note.’

26 January 1842
‘Letter from T. Colley Grattan (“High-ways and By-ways”) saying that Dickens wishes to see me, and is surprised that I have not called before, and fixing two P. M. for a call. At two P. M. call at Tremont House and am told that he is engaged. Send up name and am shown up. Kept disengaged on purpose to see Longfellow and myself. Talk a few minutes when Longfellow comes in with Sumner. Disappointed in D.’s appearance. We have heard him called “the handsomest man in London,” etc. He is of the middle height (under if anything), with a large, expressive eye, regular nose, matted, curling, wet-looking black hair, a dissipated looking mouth with a vulgar draw to it, a muddy olive complexion, stubby fingers, and a hand by no means patrician, a hearty, off-hand manner far from well-bred, and a rapid, dashing way of talking. He looks “wide awake,” “ up to everything,” full of cleverness, with quick feelings and great ardor. You admire him, and there is a fascination about him which keeps your eyes on him, yet you cannot get over the impression that he is a low-bred man. Tom Appleton says, “Take the genius out of his face, and there are a thousand young London shop-keepers about the theatres and eating-houses who look exactly like him. He has what I suppose to be true Cockney cut.

He inquires for father, and wonders he has not been to see him. Offers to call on him if he is unwell.’

27 January 1842
‘Dine with Dickens at F. C. Gray’s. [. . .] Like Dickens here very much. The gentlemen are talking their best, but Dickens is perfectly natural and unpretending. He could not have behaved better. He did not say a single thing for display. I should think he had resolved to talk as he would at home, and let his reputation take care of itself. He gave a capital description of Abbotsford [the mansion built by Walter Scott]. It was enough to make you cry. He described the hat Scott wore in his last illness, and the dents and bruises there were in it from his head falling against his chair when he lost the power of his muscles. It was heart-sickening. “And to think of a man’s killing himself for such a miserable place as Abbotsford is,” adds Dickens.

C. P. Curtis asks him if there were any such magistrates in London as Fang in “Oliver Twist.” Dickens says, “One just such, and many more like him,” and tells us that his Fang is a portrait of a magistrate named Tang, who was sitting when the book appeared, and that he was removed by the Home Department in ten weeks after the publication, upon a thorough inquiry. . .’

5 February 1842
‘Called on Dickens at 10.30 A. M. by appointment, as he leaves at one. He was at breakfast. Sat down with him. He was very agreeable and full of life. He is the cleverest man I ever met. I mean he impresses you more with the alertness of his various powers. His forces are all light infantry and light cavalry, and always in marching order. There are not many heavy pieces, but few sappers and miners, the scientific corps is deficient, and I fear there is no chaplain in the garrison.

Mrs. Dickens appears to be an excellent woman. She is natural in her manners, seems not at all elated by her new position, but rests upon a foundation of good sense and good feeling.’

14 December 1842
‘I had sued Captain Perkins and his brother the mate of the bark Clarissa Perkins for assaulting two seamen named Singleton and Parsons. Singleton is likely to die of his wounds, so I made complaint, and had the captain bound over criminally. I was obliged to do this because the district attorney declined acting. I can conceive of no reason except that in arguing against Bryant he got his feelings settled in favor of the officers. Dehon, who defended Perkins, alluded to my forwardness in urging the complaint against the master as an interference. I took him to task for this, and we had a long talk which resulted in my feeling more affection and respect for Dehon than before. He is a good fellow and has honorable feelings.

I often have a good deal to contend with in the slurs or open opposition of masters and owners of vessels whose seamen I undertake to defend or look after. It is more unpleasant when this is retailed by the counsel. Young lawyers are apt to take up the excitement and prejudice of the clients, which they ought to allay and keep free from. I never have trouble with the upper class of merchants, but only with the small grinding machines and petty traders who save by small medicine chests and poor provisions.’

3 April 1843
‘Spent the forenoon in court hearing Choate and Dexter in United States v. Le Crow, indicted for withholding provisions from his crew. Choate made a good argument, but flowery, overstrained and extravagant. Dexter was admirable. That man always seeks to come down upon his case. He seems to be a gentleman practising law, and not a mere lawyer. Calm, courteous, liberal and high-minded man.

A very troublesome case of professional difficulty has been harassing me for a week or two. A captain and mate of a merchant vessel were complained of for causing the death of the steward, a poor negro. The facts, as testified to by the men at the preliminary examination, were these: That the master and mate flogged the steward badly about four P. M. for insolence, etc. That the steward then went about his business for an hour or two. That he was again, about eight P. M., flogged, kicked and beaten badly by the master alone, so badly as would have caused the death of many men, as the crew believed. That after this last beating the captain ordered the mate to assist in taking the steward into the cabin. The mate did so. They lifted him in, he groaning like a dying man. After this the crew saw no more. There were no passengers, and no one in the cabin but the master and officers. The second mate was in his state-room, and swore that he knew nothing of the matter. The next morning, when the cook went to call the steward, he found him dead. The cook told the master and officers, and they went to his berth, and there found a glass stopple. They then went to the medicine chest, and the laudanum bottle was missing. They then said that the steward poisoned himself. The crew doubted this story.

The preliminary examination took place, and the master and mate were bound over to appear before the Grand Jury. In the interval the mate came to me and told me that he wished to ask my advice and to retain me as his counsel. He said he had a distinct defence from his captain, and must have separate advice and defence. He then told me confidentially, as his counsel, the whole story. When he had assisted the master in taking the steward into the cabin, they set him in a chair and found him dead. The captain then said, “Then I am in difficulty. You must assist me.” They then took the steward, laid him in his berth, the captain got the laudanum bottle from the medicine chest, poured out the laudanum, and placed the empty bottle and stopple by the side of the berth, and then they went to bed.

This was the case. All the facts testified to by the crew sustained its probability. It was stated solemnly, and was somewhat unfavorable to the communicator of it. Here then was, as I could not doubt, a case of manslaughter, if not of murder. Yet my knowledge of the facts came to me in the sacred character of a professional communication. I could not use them against my client. The law, as well as my own sense of justice and of the reason grounded in the policy of the profession, would forbid my divulging it. Unless a man can be safe in making a communication to his counsel, there would be an end of defences against every charge. I had received it, too, from a man who had a right and was able to keep his own secret under the implied, if not express, promise of secrecy. On the other hand, unless some use was made of the mate’s testimony, the master would go unpunished. I did all in my power to persuade the mate to go to the prosecuting officer and divulge the story, and promised him my assistance, and assured him that he would be safe; but he would not become state’s evidence, and he said it would ruin him with his employers, who were connected with the master, and being a foreigner he had nowhere else to look for support.

In this state I had to stand by and see the case changed from a charge of homicide to one of mere assault and battery for want of sufficient evidence. I did, several times, in conversation, express a strong opinion to a prosecuting officer, grounded on the evidence in court alone, however, that an indictment for manslaughter would be sustained against the master. But he would not risk it.

The trial comes on this week. I am to defend the mate; and that I can do with a clear conscience, for I believe him innocent even of an unjustifiable assault; but to stand by in silence and see a guilty man escape, when the weapon to convict him is in my own hand, is hard indeed. I have struggled against a desire to divulge, in some secret manner, the truth and the means of getting at it to the prosecuting officer. But I feel it would be wrong. I am merely unfortunate in possessing this painful knowledge.’

Finally, it is worth noting that Dana’s only son, also called Richard Henry, kept a diary. He married 
the daughter of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and made a name for himself as a lawyer and civil service reformer. Part of his diary was published in 1921 by Houghton Mifflin as Hospitable England in the Seventies: A Diary of a Young American 1875-1876, and can be read online at Internet Archive.