Thursday, April 21, 2016

From real to fantastical

Today marks the bicentenary of the birth of Charlotte Brontë. Although she was the most prolific of three sisters, all writers, she is remembered mostly for one novel, a classic of English literature, Jane Eyre. The Brontë Parsonage Museum, which holds the most important Brontë archives, owns a journal Charlotte kept intermittently, and for a short time, while living at Roe Head School. It is interesting, commentators says, since it can be seen to have served ‘as a gateway from the real world into the fantastical’.

Charlotte Brontë was born on 21 April 1816 near Bradford in the West Riding of Yorkshire. She was the third of six children. In 1820, the family moved to Haworth, also in Yorkshire, where her father was curate. The following year, her mother died, and Charlotte’s aunt joined the household to look after the children. In 1824, the four eldest daughters were sent to a clergy daughters’ school in Lancashire, but soon after both of Charlotte’s older sisters died of tuberculosis. She and her sister Emily returned to live at the Haworth Parsonage with their younger siblings Bramwell and Anne. Brontë biographers note how the children at home encouraged each others imaginative games and creative writing.

Between 1831 and 1832, Charlotte was educated at Roe Head in Mirfield, less than 20 miles southeast of Haworth, where she made friends with Ellen Nussey and Mary Taylor who became lifelong correspondents. From 1835 to 1838, she returned to Roe Head as a teacher, and thereafter took positions as governess in various families. In 1842, she moved to Brussels to attend a school, where she taught music in exchange for her tuition. It was not a happy experience and she was back at Haworth in 1844. By this time, she had written a number of stories (posthumously published as her juvenilia), but in 1846 the three sisters paid for the printing of a collection of poems, published under assumed names - though, biographies say, only two copies were ever sold.

The following year, Charlotte Brontë sent her second draft novel to Smith, Elder & Co. (a first novel, called The Professor, not having found a publisher) which published it almost immediately as Jane Eyre: An Autobiography under Charlotte’s pen name Currer Bell. The book was a commercial success, leading to speculation as to the identity of its author, speculation that only increased when Emily published Wuthering Heights under the pen name of Ellis Bell, and Anne published Agnes Grey under the pen name of Acton Bell. Tragically, over the next year or so, all three of Charlotte’s remaining siblings died - from tuberculosis also - Bramwell and Emily in 1948, and Anne in 1949. Although Anne had published her novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall in 1948, Charlotte, as her heir, refused to allow it to be reprinted (and it was not until 1854 that a new edition, much edited, was published).

Shirley, the second of Charlotte’s novels to emerge, came out in late 1849, and a third, Villette, in 1853. Given the success of Jane Eyre, she was persuaded to visit London now and then, for a few weeks at a time, and, with her true identity now known, was received in literary circles. She became acquainted with Harriet Martineau, William Makepeace Thackeray, for example, and Elizabeth Gaskell. In June 1854, she married Arthur Bell Nicholls, her father’s curate, becoming pregnant soon after. But she, too, was to die tragically young, the following March, with her unborn child. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, The Brontë Society, Victorian Web, The Poetry Foundation, or Online Literature. Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1857 biography The Life of Charlotte Brontë is freely available at Internet Archive or here.

The Brontës were not diarists by nature, but there are fragments of diary material left by Emily and Anne - see Emily Brontë peels apples - and Charlotte. Charlotte’s diary-like texts, six of them amounting to around 2,000 words, were written during her years at Roe Head school. Most of the entries are quite long, and undated - and some of them can be previewed at Googlebooks in The Brontës: Tales of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal - Selected Writings edited by Christine Alexander (Oxford University Press 2010). The British Library website mentions ‘Charlotte Brontë’s journal’, and gives one extract. However, more information as well as images of the journal itself with transcriptions can be found as part of the online exhibitions The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives at The Morgan Library & Museum. The exhibition notes say: ‘Having begun writing a straightforward diary entry - a real-time description of her life at Roe Head - Brontë had stepped seamlessly into fiction. She allowed her high-flown storytelling to provide an antidote to the dreary everyday, her diary serving as a gateway from the real world into the fantastical.’

The following extracts are taken from The Morgan Library Museum exhibition website, which says the text has been ‘lightly punctuated for readability’.

4 February 1836
‘Well, here I am at Roe-Head. It is seven o’clock at night, the young ladies are all at their lessons, the school-room is quiet, the fire is low, a stormy day is at this moment passing off in a murmuring and bleak night. I now assume my own thoughts; my mind relaxes from the stretch on which it has been for the last twelve hours & falls back onto the rest which no-body in this house knows of but myself. I now, after a day’s weary wandering, return to the ark which for me floats alone on the face of this world’s desolate & boundless deluge. It is strange. I cannot get used to the ongoings that surround me. I fulfil my duties strictly & well, yet, so to speak, if the illustration be not profane, as God was not in the wind, nor the fire, nor the earth-quake, so neither is my heart in the task, the theme or the exercise. It is the still small voice alone that comes to me at eventide, that which like a breeze with a voice in it [comes] over the deeply blue hills & out of the now leafless forests & from the cities on distant river banks of a far & bright continent. It is that which wakes my spirit & engrosses all my living feelings, all my energies which are not merely mechanical, & like Haworth & home, wakes sensations which lie dormant elsewhere.

Last night I did indeed lean upon the thunder-wakening wings of such a stormy blast as I have seldom heard blow, & it whirled me away like heath in the wilderness for five seconds of ecstasy, and as I sat by myself in the dining-room while all the rest were at tea the trance seemed to descend on a sudden, & verily this foot trod the war-shaken shores of the Calabar & these eyes saw the defiled & violated Adrianopolis shedding its lights on the river from lattices whence the invader looked out & was not darkened. I went through a trodden garden whose groves were crushed down. I ascended a great terrace, the marble surface of which shone wet with rain where it was not darkened by the mounds of dead leaves which were now showered on & now swept off by the vast & broken boughs which swung in the wind above them. Up I went to the wall of the palace to the line of latticed arches which shimmered in light, passing along quick as thought, I glanced at what the internal glare revealed through the crystal. 

There was a room lined with mirrors & with lamps on tripods, & very darkened, & splendid couches & carpets & large half lucid vases white as snow, thickly embossed with whiter mouldings, & one large picture in a frame of massive beauty representing a young man whose gorgeous & shining locks seemed as if they would wave on the breath & whose eyes were half hid by the hand carved in ivory that shaded them & supported the awful looking coron[al?] head—a solitary picture, too great to admit of a companion—a likeness to be remembered full of luxuriant beauty, not displayed, for it seemed as if the form had been copied so often in all imposing attitudes, that at length the painter, satiated with its luxuriant perfection, had resolved to conceal half & make the imperial Giant bend & hide under his cloudlike tresses, the radiance he was grown tired of gazing on. 

Often had I seen this room before and felt, as I looked at it, the simple and exceeding magnificence of its single picture, its five colossal cups of sculptured marble, its soft carpets of most deep and brilliant hues, & its mirrors, broad, lofty, & liquidly clear. I had seen it in the stillness of evening when the lamps so quietly & steadily burnt in the tranquil air, & when their rays fell upon but one living figure, a young lady who generally at that time appeared sitting on a low sofa, a book in her hand, her head bent over it as she read, her light brown hair dropping in loose & unwaving curls, her dress falling to the floor as she sat in sweeping folds of silk. All stirless about her except her heart, softly beating under her satin bodice & all silent except her regular and very gentle respiration. The haughty sadness of grandeur beamed out of her intent fixed hazel eye, & though so young, I always felt as if I dared not have spoken to her for my life, how lovely were the lines of her small & rosy mouth, but how very proud her white brow, spacious & wreathed with ringlets, & her neck, which, though so slender, had the superb curve of a queen’s about the snowy throat. I knew why she chose to be alone at that hour, & why she kept that shadow in the golden frame to gaze on her, & why she turned sometimes to her mirrors & looked to see if her loveliness & her adornments were quite perfect. 

However this night she was not visible—no—but neither was her bower void. The red ray of the fire flashed upon a table covered with wine flasks, some drained and some brimming with the crimson juice. The cushions of a voluptuous ottoman which had often supported her slight, fine form were crushed by a dark bulk flung upon them in drunken prostration. Aye, where she had lain imperially robed and decked with pearls, every waft of her garments as she moved diffusing perfume, her beauty slumbering & still glowing as dreams of him for whom she kept herself in such hallowed & shrine-like separation wandered over her soul, on her own silken couch, a swarth & sinewy moor intoxicated to ferocious insensibility had stretched his athletic limbs, weary with wassail and stupefied with drunken sleep. I knew it to be Quashia himself, and well could I guess why he had chosen the queen of Angria’s sanctuary for the scene of his solitary revelling. While he was full before my eyes, lying in his black dress on the disordered couch, his sable hair dishevelled on his forehead, his tusk-like teeth glancing vindictively through his parted lips, his brown complexion flushed with wine, & his broad chest heaving wildly as the breath issued in spurts from his distended nostrils, while I watched the fluttering of his white shirt ruffles starting through the more than half-unbuttoned waistcoat, & beheld the expression of his Arabian countenance savagely exulting even in sleep, Quashia triumphant Lord in the halls of Zamorna! in the bower of Zamorna’s lady! while this apparition was before me, the dining-room door opened and Miss W[ooler] came in with a plate of butter in her hand. “A very stormy night my dear!” said she. 

“It is ma’am,” said I.’

5 February 1836
‘Friday afternoon. Now as I have a little bit of time, there being no French lessons this afternoon, I should like to write something. I can’t enter into any continued narrative—my mind is not settled enough for that—but if I could call up some slight and pleasant sketch, I would amuse myself by jotting it down. 

Let me consider the other day. I appeared to realize a delicious, hot day in the most burning height of summer, a gorgeous afternoon of idleness and enervation descending upon the hills of our Africa, an evening enfolding a sky of profoundly deep blue & fiery gold about the earth. 

Dear me! I keep heaping epithets together and I cannot describe what I mean. I mean a day whose rise, progress & decline seem made of sunshine. As you are travelling you see the wide road before you, the field on each side & the hills far, far off, all smiling, glowing in the same amber light, and you feel such an intense heat, quite incapable of chilling damp or even refreshing breeze. A day when fruits visibly ripen, when orchards appear suddenly change from green to gold.

Such a day I saw flaming over the distant Sydenham Hills in Hawkscliffe Forest. I saw its sublime sunset pouring beams of crimson through magnificent glades. It seemed to me that the war was over, that the trumpet had ceased but a short time since, and that its last tones had been pitched on a triumphant key. It seemed as if exciting events—tidings of battles, of victories, of treaties, of meetings of mighty powers—had diffused an enthusiasm over the land that made its pulses beat with feverish quickness. After months of bloody toil, a time of festal rest was now bestowed on Angria. The noblemen, the generals and the gentlemen were at their country seats, & the Duke, young but war-worn, was Hawkscliffe. 

A still influence stole out of the stupendous forest, whose calm was now more awful than the sea-like rushing that swept through its glades in time of storm. Groups of deer appeared & disappeared silently amongst the prodigious stems, & now and then a single roe glided down the savannah park, drank of the Arno & fleeted back again.

Two gentlemen in earnest conversation were walking along in St Mary’s Grove, & their deep commingling tones, very much subdued, softly broke the silence of the evening. Secret topics seemed to be implied in what they said, for the import of their words was concealed from every chance listener by the accents of a foreign tongue. All the soft vowels of Italian articulation flowed from their lips, as fluently as if they had been natives of the European Eden. “Henrico” was the appellative by which the talker & the younger of the two addressed his companion, & the other replied by the less familiar title of “Monsignore.” That young signore, or lord, often looked up at the Norman towers of Hawkscliffe, which rose even above the lofty elms of St Mary’s Grove. The sun was shining on their battlements, kissing them with its last beam that rivalled in hue the fire-dyed banner hanging motionless above them.

“Henrico,” said he, speaking still in musical Tuscan, “this is the 29th of June.” Neither you nor I ever saw a fairer day. What does it remind you of? All such sunsets have associations.” 

Henrico knitted his stern brow in thought & at the same time fixed his very penetrating black eye on the features of his noble comrade, which, invested by habit and nature with the aspect of command & pride, were at this sweet hour relaxing to the impassioned & fervid expression of romance. “What does it remind you of, my lord,” said he briefly. 

“Ah! Many things, Henrico! Ever since I can remember, the rays of the setting sun have acted on my heart, as they did on Memnon’s wondrous statue. The strings always vibrate, sometimes the tones swell in harmony, sometimes in discord. They play a wild air just now, but, sweet & ominously plaintive Henrico, can you imagine what I feel when I look into the dim & gloomy vistas of this my forest, & at yonder turrets which the might of my own hands has raised, not the halls of my ancestors like hoary morning [illeg.]. Calm diffuses over this wide wood a power to stir & thrill the mind such as words can never express. Look at the red west—the sun is gone & it is fading. Gaze into those mighty groves supernaturally still & full of gathering darkness. Listen how the Arno moans!’

Monday, April 11, 2016

Gouty old gentlemen

‘The hippos were delightful. They seemed so aristocratic, like gouty old gentlemen, puffing and blowing and yawning, as though everything bored them.’ This is from the diary of Richard Harding Davis - the colourful American journalist-adventurer who died a century ago today. He was a prolific writer, turning his experiences and travels - often instigated by his work as a war correspondent - into books of stories, whether fiction or non-fiction. Only a few short diary fragments written by Davis have ever been published - thanks to a biography by his brother - and several of these concern the hunting of hippos!

Davis was born in 1864 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Both his parents were journalists, though his mother achieved some fame as a novelist also. He studied at Lehigh University, where his uncle was a professor, and he contributed short stories to the student magazine, The Lehigh Burr, eventually becoming its editor. His first published book was a collection of these stories The Adventures of My Freshman. In 1885, he transferred to Johns Hopkins University. After university, he worked on various Philadelphia newspapers, before moving to New York and The Evening Sun. Increasingly, he became noticed for writing on controversial and high profile subjects, as well as for his Van Bibber stories of city life. In addition, he was writing short stories for other publications. In 1890, he switched jobs, to become managing editor of Harper’s Weekly.

During the 1890s, Davis was publishing two or three books every year, some were collections of his travel and journalistic writing - like The Rulers of the Mediterranean and Three Gringos in Central America and Venezuela - while others were collections of his short fiction. He also turned, increasingly, to war reporting, making a name for himself following the Spanish-American War, with the 1st US Volunteer Cavalry, better known as the Rough Riders (second in command, one Theodore Roosevelt, later US president). He went on to cover the Second Boer War, becoming one of the world’s best known war correspondents. By then he was writing for the New York Herald, the New York Times and Scribner’s Magazine.

Davis reported on the Russo-Japanese War, and on the Salonika Front in the First World War (being arrested as a spy briefly by the Germans). A large number of his articles can be read at the Historic Journalism website, which, incidentally, says of him, ‘The well-traveled and photogenic Richard Harding Davis represented all that was edgy and glamorous about that new breed of American journalist: foreign correspondent. Fearlessly tramping by rail, road and horseback to the front lines of the “Great War”. He continued writing a great many books - most of these can be found online, freely available, at Internet Archive. His 1897 novel Soldiers of Fortune was turned into a play and, later on in the 1910s, to two films. He also wrote more than a score of plays, Including Ranson’s Folly, The Dictator, and Miss Civilization. In 1899, he had married Cecil Clark, but they divorced in 1912, and he then married Bessie McCoy, an actress, with whom he had one child. Davis died on 11 April 1916. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, The Spanish American War website, PBS, or Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Another biographical source is Adventures and Letters of Richard Harding Davis, a book written by his brother Charles Belmont Davis and published originally by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1917. Although there are no details in the biography about any diaries Richard Davis might have kept during his life, Charles does include half a dozen or so extracts from a diary his brother kept in 1907. Here are several of them.

24 January 1907
‘Last day in London. Margaret Frazer offered me gun from a Captain Jenkins of Nigeria. Instead bought Winchester repeating, hoping, if need it, get one coast. Lunched Savoy - Lynch, Mrs. Lynch, her sister-very beautiful girl. In afternoon Sam Sothern and Margaret came in to say “Good bye.” Dined at Anthony Hope’s-Barrie and Mrs. Barrie and Jim Whigham. Mrs. Barrie looking very well, Barrie not so well. As silent as ever, only talked once during dinner when he told us about the first of his series of cricket matches between authors and artists. Did not have eleven authors, so going along road picked up utter strangers one a soldier in front of embracing two girls. Said he would come if girls came too - all put in brake. Mrs. Barrie said the Llewellen Davis’ were the originals for the Darlings and their children in Peter Pan. They played a strange game of billiards suggested by Barrie who won as no one else knew the rules and they claimed he invented them to suit his case. Sat up until three writing and packing. The dinner was best have had this trip in London.’

22 February 1907
‘Spent about the worst night of my life. No mattress, no pillow. Not space enough for my own cot. Every insect in the world ate me. After a bath and coffee felt better. It rained heavily until three P. M. Read Pendennis, and loved it. The picture of life at Clavering and Fairoaks, and Dr. Portman and Foker are wonderful. I do not know when I have enjoyed and admired a work so much. For some reason it is all entirely new again. I will read them all now in turn. After rain cleared took my slaves and went after “supplies.” Met a King. I thought he was a witch doctor, and the boys said he was a dancing man. All his suite, wives and subjects followed, singing a song that made your flesh creep. At Hatton and Cookson’s bought “plenty chop” for “boys” who were much pleased. Also a sparklet bottle, some whiskey and two pints of champagne at 7 francs the pint. Blush to own it was demi Sec. Also bacon, jam, milk, envelopes, a pillow. Saw some ivory State had seized and returned. 15 Kilo’s. Some taken from Gomez across street not returned until he gave up half. No reason given Taylor agent H. & C. why returned Apparently when called will come down on the ivory question. Cuthbert Malet, coffee planter, came call on me. Only Englishman still in Service State. Had much to say which did not want printed until he out of country which will be in month or two. Anstrossi has given me side of cabin where there is room for my cot, so expect to sleep.’

27 February 1907
‘Saw two hippos. Thought Anstrossi said they were buffalo. So was glad when I found out what they were. I did not want to go home without having seen only two dead ones. In a few minutes I saw two more. Anstrossi fired at them but I did not, as thought it not the game when one could not recover them. Before noon saw six in a bunch - and then what I thought was a spit of rock with a hippo lying on the end of it, turned out to be fifteen hippos in a line! Burnham has told he had seen eleven in the Volta in one day. Before one o’clock, I had seen twenty-six, and, later in the day Anstrossi fired at another, and shot a hole in the awning. That made twenty-seven in one day. Also some monkeys. The hippos were delightful. They seemed so aristocratic, like gouty old gentlemen, puffing and blowing and yawning, as though everything bored them.’

28 February 1907
‘When just going up for coffee, saw what was so big, looking at it against horizon, thought it must be an elephant. Was a young hippo. Captain Jensen brought boat within eighty yards of him, and both Anstrossi and I fired, apparently knocking him off his legs, for he rolled on his side as though his back was broken. I missed him the second shot, which struck the water just in front of him. The other three shots caught him in the head, in the mouth and ear. He lay quite still, and the boys rushed out a gang plank and surrounded him singing and shouting and cutting his tail to make him bleed and weaken him. They don’t die for an hour but he seemed dead enough, so I went to my cabin to re-load my gun and my camera. In three minutes I came out, and found the hippo still quiet. Then he began to toss his head and I shot him again, to put him out of pain. In return for which he rolled over into the water and got away. I was mad. Later saw four more. Just at sunset while taking bath another was seen on shore. We got within sixty yards of him and all of us missed him or at least did not hurt him. He then trotted for the river with his head up and again I must have missed, although at one place he was but fifty yards away, when he entered the water, a hundred. I stepped it off later in the sand. I followed him up and hit him or some one of us hit him and he stood up on his hind legs. But he put back to land for the third time. Captain said wait until moon came out. But though we hunted up to our waists saw none. One came quite close at dinner. Seven on the day.’

22 April 1907
‘A blackmailer named H_ called, with photos of atrocities and letters and films. He wanted 30 Pounds for the lot. I gave him 3 Pounds for three photos. One letter he showed me signed Bullinger, an Englishman, said he had put the fear of God in their hearts by sticking up the chiefs head on a pole, and saying, “Now, make rubber, or you will look like that.” Went to lunch with Pearson but it was the wrong day, and so missed getting a free feed. Thinking he would turn up, I ordered a most expensive lunch. I paid for it. Evening went Patience, which liked immensely and then Duchess of Sutherland’s party to Premiers. Saw Churchill and each explained his share of the Real Soldiers row.’

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Waugh’s appalling diaries

Evelyn Waugh, author of such famous novels as Brideshead Revisited, Scoop, and Decline and Fall, died 50 years ago today. He was a committed diarist, throughout his life from the age of seven, and his diaries have become an invaluable source for biographies. However, when they were first published, in the 1970s, the literary world found them rather dull, and one US critic even called them ‘appalling’.

Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh was born in London in 1903, and educated at Heath Mount, Lancing College and Hertford College, Oxford. After leaving university, he taught at a private school in Wales. He also attempted suicide by swimming out to sea, but turned back when stung by a jellyfish. He then tried carpentry and journalism before, in 1928, finding literary success with Decline and Fall. During the next ten years, he published several more novels, including A Handful of Dust and Scoop.

In 1929, Waugh married Evelyn Gardner (the couple becoming known as He-Evelyn and She-Evelyn among their friends), but the marriage was annulled in 1936. The following year, he married Laura Herbert and they had six children. During the war, he served with the marines and then as a commando in the Mediterranean. In the latter years of the war, he was assigned to Royal Horse Guards and had time to write what became his most important novel, Brideshead Revisited, published in 1945. Thereafter, he settled in the West Country, and wrote several satirical novels based on his war experiences, as well as travel books (based on trips to Africa and the Middle East) and biographies. He died on 10 April 1966. Further information can be found at The Evelyn Waugh Society, Doubting Hall, Wikipedia, The Atlantic, or The Paris Review.

For most of his life, indeed from the age of 7, Waugh kept a diary, though he stopped about a year before his death. However, there are only 340,000 words in the extant diary material, not a great volume for so long a period. The manuscripts - many on loose sheets, some bound - are kept by the University of Texas where they were transferred after Waugh’s death. There is no evidence that he kept the diary with publication in mind, rather that he wrote it, later on any way, as an aide memoire to assist him in his travel journalism and other writings. The decision to publish his diaries was taken in 1973 by his second wife, Laura, in conjunction with their son Auberon.

The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, as edited by Michael Davie, were first published in 1976 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, the book running to over 800 pages. Although portions of Waugh’s early diaries were left out, Davie retained as much of Waugh’s text as he could, apart from twenty or so libellous passages and a similar number of references which could be considered ‘intolerably offensive’.

A short while before publication of the diaries, Collins had published Evelyn Waugh: A Biography written by Christopher Sykes who had had full access to the diary material. Frank Kermode, reviewing the diaries in The New York Times, noted: ‘Sykes, who can hardly have thought it would occur to anybody to publish them almost entire, described the diaries as often tedious and unreliable - tedious because the detailed record of drunken excess must be so, unreliable because of a natural tendency to confer fictive shape and point on facts even at the moment of setting them down in the diary. The general reader might have been better served with a 200-page volume of extracts, leaving the remainder to scholars. Still, here it all is, and readers will have to discover for themselves which parts will shock, amuse or instruct them.’

And Kermode concludes: ‘He constructed for himself a coherent and highly rational world with clear religious, political and esthetic laws. It was a narrow, even a bigoted construction but, like Waugh’s prose, it was a constant and authoritative reproach to the venality and disorder of his contemporaries, or of all but a tiny remnant - his honorable, amusing or wicked friends. The diaries are architect’s notes on the construction and maintenance of this world; that was their value to Waugh. We have the novels, and so need them less.’

John W. Aldridge, the US literary critic, judged Waugh’s diaries even less kindly, titling an essay on them The Appalling Diaries of Evelyn Waugh (this can be found online at Googlebooks in his essay collection Classics & Contemporaries). ‘Waugh,’ Aldridge writes, ‘seems to have been interested solely in keeping a record of his daily experiences and impressions - of public events and private scandals made public, people known and incessantly dined with, parties attended, his own frequently appalling behaviour at them, and monstrous hangovers suffered the morning after. If his portraits of friends and enemies are often harsh, his self-portrait is absolutely uncompromising and presented in strict conformity to his own obnoxious dictum: “Never apologise. Never explain.” ’

3 September 1927
‘How I detest this house and how ill I feel in it. The whole place volleys and thunders with traffic. I can’t sleep or work. I reviewed the books and have begun on a comic novel. Mother is away at Midsomer Norton where Aunt Trissie is dying. The telephone bell is continually ringing, my father scampering up and down stairs, Gaspard barking, the gardener rolling the gravel under the window and all the time the traffic. Another week of this will drive me mad.’

29 November 1927
‘I am getting infinitely tired of London and its incessant fogs. Very little has happened lately. I see Evelyn a lot and a certain amount of Olivia. On Sunday I went to the first night of the Sitwell but was bitterly disappointed and bored. There had been a Sitwell party at Balston’s on the preceding Tuesday. I am getting on with the carpentry - Henry Lamb knows of a place in the country where I might work.’

22 October 1928
‘I had my hair cut and met Martin Wilson. He seems to bear no malice for Decline and Fall. From there to the exhibition of Maillols. The sculpture magnificent but the wood engravings not particularly meritorious. Alathea lunched with me at Taglioni’s, very lovely and vague, with an air of just waking up after an uneasy night. Extraordinarily ingenuous with a fluttery eagerness to skate and go to the theatre and see the latest pictures. After luncheon to my tailor’s to try on a check suit.’

30 June 1955
‘The television people came at 10 and stayed until 6.30. An excruciating day. They did not want a dialogue but a monologue. The whole thing is to be cut to five minutes in New York and shown at breakfast-time. They filmed everything including the poultry. The impresario kept producing notes from his pocket: ‘Mr Waugh, it is said here that you are irascible and reactionary. Will you please say something offensive?’ So I said: ‘The man who has brought this apparatus to my house asks me to be offensive. I am sorry to disappoint him.’ ‘Oh, Mr Waugh, please, that will never do. I have a reputation. You must alter that.’ I said later, not into the machine: ‘You expect rather a lot for $100.’ ‘Oh, I don’t think there is any question of payment.’ ’

18 August 1955
‘The original day’s visit to Birmingham to see the Pre-Raphaelites became extended. With Laura, Teresa, Margaret and £30 we drove off in the afternoon. A letter to propose our stopping at Stanway brought no answer so I presumed Letty Benson to be away. I also wrote to Lady Olivier telling her we shall be in the audience on Friday. We stopped in Evesham while the children had tea. As we approached Birmingham the evening became hotter and heavier. Birmingham was humid and over- powering. We arrived at Queen’s Hotel where I found that our rooms for the night would cost £9. The children had ‘bubble’ baths, the salts for which we had purchased in Cheltenham. Laura and I drank Pimm’s No. 1 Cup in the cocktail bar where there was a cool breeze and an intoxicated dwarf. A ham sandwich and then on foot to the theatre where we sweated through a tedious farce. Back to dinner. The servants very civil in the hotel, the rooms poky, airless and shabby. But the girls in high spirits.’

The Diary Junction

Thursday, April 7, 2016

William Godwin’s diary

The English writer and philosopher William Godwin, an early proponent of idealistic liberalism, died 180 years ago today. He is, perhaps, better remembered for his daughter, Marywho married the poet Percy Shelley and wrote Frankenstein. Godwin kept a diary throughout his life. Although the daily entries are little more than lists of names and places and books read, the diary as a whole is considered of ‘immense importance to researchers of history, politics, literature, and women’s studies’.

Godwin was born in 1756 in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, into a large family of religious dissenters. Educated into a strict Calvinism, he finished his schooling at the Hoxton Academy, and served as minister in several places before returning to London. But by then he had shed his religion in favour of an idealistic liberalism based on the sovereignty and competence of reason to determine right choice. In order to further his new ideas, he set out on a writing career, contributing to political journals and associating with radical societies. He also tried setting up a school, and writing novels, though these early ventures did not come to much.

In 1793, Godwin published Enquiry concerning Political Justice, and its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness - now considered his greatest work - setting out his positive vision for an anarchist society of small self-subsidising communities. After the writings of Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine, it was the most popular written response to the French Revolution. He followed this with a (hugely successful) novel - Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams - which some consider the first ever thriller. In 1795, Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, who he had first met some years earlier and who now had a daughter, became intimately involved. She fell pregnant by Godwin, and the two married in London in 1797. Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was born within a few months, but her mother died ten days later.

That same year, 1797, Godwin published a collection of essays entitled The Enquirer; and he wrote a biography of his wife, published as Memoirs of the Author of a Vindication of the Rights of Woman (though it was not very well received for being too revelatory). After producing a third and final edition of Political Justice, he turned to literature and history, trying his hand at plays, another novel and a life of Chaucer. In 1801, he married his neighbour Mary Jane Clairmont, who brought two children into the household (in addition to Godwin’s daughter and step-daughter). However, she proved an ill-tempered stepmother and was inhospitable to some of Godwin’s friends. This union produced a son for Godwin, David, who went on to become a journalist but died young from cholera.

In 1805, to secure a better financial situation, the Godwins, with help from friends, began running a children’s bookshop. Godwin wrote a variety of books - fables, histories, dictionaries - for the shop, while his wife saw to the business end, and translated books from French. In 1812, Godwin became a kind of mentor to Percy Shelley, who then visited the house often, and who provided much needed funds (borrowed against his future expectations) in support of Godwin and his family. In 1814, however, Shelley eloped with Godwin’s 16-year-old daughter Mary to the Continent. They returned to England and married in 1816 (after the death of Shelley’s first wife). Only a couple of years later, Mary Shelley’s book Frankenstein, dedicated to Godwin, would be published.

The most notable publications of Godwin’s later career were Of Population, a belated attempt to refute Thomas Malthus’s 1798 An Essay on the Principle of Population - itself a response to Godwin’s ideas (see more on Malthus’s diary at The cost of men and food); History of the Commonwealth of England, from its Commencement to the Restoration of Charles II in four volumes; and Thoughts on Man, his Nature, Productions and Discoveries. Godwin died on 7 April 1836. For more information see Wikipedia, Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, The History Guide, The Wordsworth Trust or University of Oxford podcasts.

Godwin kept a diary for most of his life, leaving behind 32 octavo notebooks now held by the Abinger Collection of manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Although each diary entry - 1788-1836 - is no more than a short list of names, places etc., and often no more than a few words, the entire text has been considered important enough to be fully digitalised, analysed and uploaded to a dedicated website hosted by the Bodleian  This was funded, between 2007 and 2010, by the Leverhulme Trust and others under the direction of Oxford’s David O’Shaughnessy and Mark Philp and Victoria Myers from Pepperdine University, California.

According to the project: ‘The diary is a resource of immense importance to researchers of history, politics, literature, and women’s studies. It maps the radical intellectual and political life of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, as well as providing extensive evidence on publishing relations, conversational coteries, artistic circles and theatrical production over the same period.  One can also trace the developing relationships of one of the most important families in British literature, Godwin’s own [. . .]. Many of the most important figures in British cultural history feature in its pages, including Anna Barbauld, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charles James Fox, William Hazlitt, Thomas Holcroft, Elizabeth Inchbald, Charles and Mary Lamb, Mary Robinson, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, William Wordsworth, and many others.’

The website offers - freely - an image of every page and a transcription of the text. Moreover, for every person, place, publication, play, meal etc. mentioned in the diary, there is a link to further detailed notes and collated lists of other mentions in the diary of the same subject. Often times, nearly every word of a diary entry is a highlighted link to further information. An introduction to the website can be found here, a more detailed intro to the complexities of the text can be found here, and an example of how the diary has been used can be seen at the Shelley’s Ghost exhibition website. (See also Write. Read Homer about Mary Shelley’s diaries.)

Although they make little sense divorced of the links and explanations provided by the William Godwin Diary website, here are a few examples of Godwin’s diary entries.

8 March 1790
‘House of Commons: Tobacco act, Capt. Williams’s Petition, Quebec’

13 November 1791
‘Correct. Dyson & Dibbin call; // talk of virtue & disinterest. Dine at Johnson’s, with Paine, Shovet & Wolstencraft; talk of monarchy, Tooke, Johnson, Voltaire, pursuits & religion. Sup at Helcroft’s:’

28 July 1792
‘Write 2 pages, on prosperity. Finish Merchant of Venice: Much Ado, 3 acts. Miss Godwin at tea.’

23 August 1792
‘Walk to Rumford, 3 hours: stage to town, breakfast at miss Godwin’s: dine at Mr Marshal’s. See Cross Partners’

4 February 1795
‘Call on mrs Jennings: tea Johnson’s, Kentish Town.’

9 July 1795
‘Breakfast at Buckingham: dine at Watford: tea Fawcet’s, Hedge Grove, sleep: see Wilson, Smith, &c.’

7 September 1808
‘Church-yard: walk to Thatcham: dine at Woolhampton: tea Theal, sleep. George Dandin.’

10 April 1816
‘Dine at Darlington: pass Durham: sleep at Newcastle—intelligent bailiff, pleasing gentleman, Cumberland farmer.’

27 April 1816
‘Breakfast at Carlisle: coach to Penrith: chaise along Ulswater: dine at Wordsworth’s: call, w. him, on Jackson; adv. Wakefield: circuit of Grasmere. Derwent Coleridge dines: write to M J & Thos Moore.’

1 November 1830
‘Essays, revise. Homer, v. 395. Museum; Du Bartas: theatre, Henry V. 60 / 65’