Monday, December 26, 2016

Touring the Lake District

‘Our farmer was himself the man, that last year plundered the eagle’s eyrie; all the dale are up in arms on such an occasion, for they lose abundance of lambs yearly, not to mention hares, partridges, grouse, &c. He was let down from the cliff in ropes to the shelf of the rock on which the nest was built, the people above shouting and hollowing to fright the old birds, which flew screaming round, but did not dare to attack him.’ This is from a short diary kept by Thomas Gray, a classics scholar and poet born 300 years ago today, while travelling in the English Lake District. His diary descriptions of the Lakes, written to send as letters to a friend, were so popular that they were reprinted many times, not least as an appendix in early guide books for the area.

Gray was born in London on 26 December 1716, the only child of his parents - a milliner and a scrivener - to survive infancy. In 1725, he was admitted to Eton College, where two brothers of his mother worked as assistant masters - indeed he lived with one of his uncles rather than at the college. While at Eton, Gray developed a literary bent, and he became good friends with Horace Walpole, Richard West and Thomas Ashton. He entered Peterhouse, Cambridge, in 1734, but, bored with academic life, set out, in 1734, on a Grand Tour with Walpole. However, the friends eventually fell out, and Gray returned to London in 1741, where his father died soon after.

Gray renewed his friendship with West, and resumed work on a tragedy, Agrippina, begun in Paris, as well as other poetical works, When West died, aged only 25, Gray’s sadness inspired an emotional outpouring of poems such as Ode to Adversity and Sonnet on the Death of Richard West. In 1742, he moved back to Cambridge to complete his studies. By the time he achieved a degree in civil law, he had no need to earn an income by practising. He remained at Cambridge, indulging his passion for the classics, studying Greek history and literature in particular, becoming a Fellow, first of Peterhouse, and later of Pembroke College.

In 1745, Gray was reconciled with Walpole, and this helped reinvigorate Gray’s interest in writing, partly because of his friend’s encouragement but also thanks to his publishing activities. Around 1750, Gray completed his most famous poem, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, begun nearly a decade earlier in a church graveyard. Despite being published anonymously, Elegy was a literary sensation and Gray’s authorship was soon uncovered. In 1757, Gray was offered, but refused, the post of Poet Laureate. During the 1760s, he took to travelling to different parts of Britain, and in 1768, he was made professor of history and modern languages. He died in 1771. Further information is available from the Thomas Gray Archive, Wikipedia, Luminarium, and The Poetry Foundation.

Gray was not a diarist. However, during one of his tours in the 1860s, to the Lake District, he kept diary-like notes which he then copied in letters to his friend Dr. Thomas Wharton (who, but for sickness would have accompanied him on the tour). The letters were first published posthumously with some of his poems in 1775 as The Poems of Mr. Gray to which are prefixed Memoirs of his Life and Writings by W. A. Mason (freely available at Internet Archive or the Thomas Gray Archive). The journal was several times reprinted, and from 1780 was included as an appendix to Thomas West’s popular A Guide to the Lakes. The letters/journal can also be found in The Works of Thomas Gray - Volume IV (Pickering, 1836). However, in 2001, Liverpool University Press published the diary/letters for the first time alone, and in a modern edition called Thomas Gray’s Journal of His Visit to the Lake District in 1769, with a life, commentary and historical background. More information about, and some examples from, the journal can be found at Norton Anthology of English Literature and Lancaster University’s Mapping the Lakes website.

The following extract is taken from an 1820 edition of The Poems and Letters of Thomas Gray: With Memoirs of His Life and Writings by William Mason (available at Internet Archive).

3 October 1769
‘A heavenly day; rose at seven and walked out under the conduct of my landlord to Borrowdale; the grass was covered with a hoarfrost, which soon melted and exhaled in a thin bluish smoke; crossed the meadows, obliquely catching a diversity of views among the hills over the lake and islands, and changing prospect at every ten paces. Left Cockshut (which we formerly mounted) and Castle-hill, a loftier and more rugged hill behind me, and drew near the foot of Wallacrag, whose bare and rocky brow cut perpendicularly down about four hundred feet (as I guess, though the people called it much more) awfully overlooks the way. Our path here tends to the left, and the ground gently rising and covered with a glade of scattering trees and bushes on the very margin of the water, opens both ways the most delicious view that my eyes ever beheld; opposite are the thick woods of Lord Egremont and Newland-valley, with green and smiling fields embosomed in the dark cliffs; to the left the jaws of Bonrowdale, with that turbulent chaos of mountain behind mountain, rolled in confusion; beneath you, and stretching far away to the right, the shining purity of the lake reflecting rocks, woods, fields, and inverted tops of hills, just ruffled by the breeze, enough to shew it is alive, with the white buildings of Keswick, Crosthwaite Church, and Skiddaw for a back ground at a distance. Behind you the magnificent heights of Walla-crag: here the glass played its part divinely, the place is called Carf-close-reeds; and I chose to set down these barbarous names, that any body may inquire on the place, and easily find the particular station that I mean. This scene continues to Barrowgate; and a little farther, passing a brook called Barrow-beck, we entered Borrowdale: the crags named Lawdoor-banks begin now to impend terribly over your way, and more terribly when you hear that three years since an immense mass of rock tumbled at once from the brow and barred all access to the dale (for this is the only road) till they could work their way through it. Luckily no one was passing at the time of this fall; but down the side of the mountain, and far into the lake, lie dispersed the huge fragments of this ruin in all shapes and in all directions: something farther we turned aside into a coppice, ascending a little in front of Lawdoor water-fall; the height appeared to be about two hundred feet, the quantity of water not great, though (these three days excepted) it had rained daily in the hills for near two months before; but then the stream was nobly broken, leaping from rock to rock, and foaming with fury. On one side a towering crag dial spired up to equal, if not overtop the neighbouring cliffs (this lay all in shade and darkness): on the other hand a rounder broader projecting hill shagged with wood, and illuminated by the sun, which glanced sideways on the upper part of the cataract. The force of the water wearing a deep channel in the ground, hurries away to join the lake. We descended again and passed the stream over a rude bridge. Soon after we came under Gowdar-crag, a hill more formidable to the eye, and to the apprehension, than that of Lawdoor; the rocks at top deep-cloven perpendicularly, by the rains, hanging loose and nodding forwards, seem just starting from their base in shivers. The whole way down and the road on both sides is strewed with piles of the fragments strangely thrown across each other, and of a dreadful bulk: the place reminds me of those passes in the Alps, where the guides tell you to move on with speed, and say nothing, least the agitation of air should loosen the snows above, and bring down a mass that would overwhelm a caravan. I took their counsel here and hastened on in silence.

Non ragioniam di lor, ma guarda, e passa!
The hills here are clothed all up their steep sides with oak, ash, birch, holly, &c. some of it has been cut forty years ago, some within these eight years; yet all is sprung again, green, flourishing, and tall, for its age, in a place where no soil appears but the staring rock, and where a man could scarce stand upright: here we met a civil young farmer overseeing his reapers (for it is now oat harvest) who conducted us to a neat white house in the village of Grange, which is built on a rising ground in the midst of a valley; round it the mountains form an awful amphitheatre, and through it obliquely runs the Derwent clear as glass, and shewing under its bridge every trout that passes. Beside the village rises a round eminence of rock covered entirely with old trees, and over that more proudly towers Castle-crag, invested also with wood on its sides, and bearing on its naked top some traces of a fort said to be Roman. By the side of this hill, which almost blocks up the way, the valley turns to the left, and contracts its dimensions till there is hardly any road but the rocky bed of the river. The wood of the mountains increases, and their summits grow loftier to the eye, and of more fantastic forms; among them appear Eagle’s-cliff, Dove’s-nest, Whitedale-pike, &c. celebrated names in the annals of Keswick. The dale opens about four miles higher till you come to Sea-whaite (where lies the way mounting the hills to the right that leads to the Wadd-mines); all farther access is here barred to prying mortals, only there is a little path winding over the fells, and for some weeks in the year passable to the dalesmen; but the mountains know well that these innocent people will not reveal the mysteries of their ancient kingdom, “the reign of Chaos and Old Night:” only I learned that this dreadful road, dividing again, leads one branch to Ravenglas, and the other to Hawkshead.

For me I, went no farther than the farmer’s (better than four miles from Keswick) at Grange; his mother and he brought us butter that Siserah would have jumped at, though not in a lordly dish, bowls of milk, thin oaten-cakes, and ale; and we had carried a cold tongue thither with us. Our farmer was himself the man, that last year plundered the eagle’s eyrie; all the dale are up in arms on such an occasion, for they lose abundance of lambs yearly, not to mention hares, partridges, grouse, &c. He was let down from the cliff in ropes to the shelf of the rock on which the nest was built, the people above shouting and hollowing to fright the old birds, which flew screaming round, but did not dare to attack him. He brought off the eaglet (for there is rarely more than one) and an addle egg. The nest was roundish, and more than a yard over, made of twigs twisted together. Seldom a year passes but they take the brood or eggs, and sometimes they shoot one, sometimes the other, parent; but the surviver has always found a mate (probably in Ireland) and they breed near the old place. By his description I learn, that this species is the Erne the vulture Albicilla of Linneeus, in his last edition, (but in your’s Falco Albicilla) so consult him and Pennant about it.

We returned leisurely home the way we came; but saw a new landscape; the features indeed were the same in part, but many new ones were disclosed by the mid-day sun, and the tints were entirely changed: take notice this was the best, or perhaps the only day for going up Skiddaw, but I thought it better employed; it was perfectly serene, and hot as midsummer.

In the evening I walked alone down to the lake by the side of Crow-park after sunset, and saw the solemn colouring of night draw on, the last gleam of sunshine fading away on the hill-tops, the deep serene of the waters, and the long shadows of the mountains thrown across them, till they nearly touched the hithermost shore. At a distance were heard the murmurs of many waterfalls, not audible in the day-time; I wished for the moon, but she was dark to me and silent.

Hid in her vacant interlunar cave.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

No larking or slacking

‘The work consists of the following duties: Searching incoming workers for matches, cigarettes spirits etc. in pockets, baskets etc.; Searching outgoing workers for stolen property; Keeping guard at the gate and allowing no one to enter without a pass [. . .] Patrolling to see that no one is larking or slacking.’ Written exactly 100 years ago today, this extract is from the diaries of Gabrielle West, employed as a cook and then as a policewoman on the Home Front during the First World War. The diaries have been edited by her great niece, Avalon Weston (also in the photograph), and are newly published by Pen & Sword Books, as Menus, Munitions & Keeping the Peace.

West was born in 1890, the youngest of five children, at a boys school in Bournemouth, England. The school had originally been set up by her grandfather, and was than managed by her father, Reverend George West. She remained there until the age of 17, until the family moved to Selsley where her father became the vicar. While her elder siblings all established careers, she remained at the vicarage, helping her mother with the Sunday school and by visiting the sick, and assisting her father with his parish work. She and her mother were members of the Red Cross in Cheltenham, and it was through the Red Cross that Gabrielle (known as Bobby) became involved in the war effort.

West found paid positions in the canteens of the Farnborough Royal Aircraft Factory and then at the Woolwich Arsenal. She failed a mental arithmetic test required to drive a horse-drawn bread van for J. Lyons, but was among the first women enrolled in the police, and spent the rest of the war looking after the girls in various munitions factories. After the war, she tended to work as a carer for one relative or another. She never married, and lived to be 100.

In 1979, West donated diaries she had kept during the Great War to the Imperial War Museum (IWM). In 2005, Alexander Street Press, an electronic academic database publisher, produced World War I Diary of Miss G. West, as part of an e-book series - British and Irish women’s letters and diaries. A decade later, the BBC and a co-producer, having trawled through a 1,000 or more journals and collections of letters, chose West to be one of 14 main characters in its Great War Diaries series, broadcast during 2014 (in eight episodes).

The airing of the series on the BBC brought West to the attention of Avalon Weston, West’s oldest living descendant and thus owner of the diaries’ copyright. Weston discovered that, 
on donating the diaries, her great-aunt (aged 89 at the time) had given two interviews to the IWM. Weston proceeded to produce a typescript, and discovered that the diaries were, in fact, copies of long letters, posted at regular intervals, to her brother, who had gone to work in the Indian Education Service in Bengal, and who she much missed.

Weston went on to produce a book, just published by Pen & Sword Books as Menus, Munitions and Keeping the Peace: The Home Front Diaries of Gabrielle West 1914 - 1917. As well as the diaries/letters it includes a generous collection of photographs that Weston found stored with various relatives, a number of sketches by West taken from the diaries, and a foreword by IWM’s Antony Richards. Here are several extracts - with thanks to Pen & Sword Books.

8 January 1916
‘Not a very cheerful outlook when I first arrived. Miss B. was to have met me at the station, but was not there, and by some mistake I eventually got out at North Camp instead of South Famborough, so that was a nice 2 miles to bicycle to our lodgings. I had with me a despatch case, fibre trunk, camp bed, mattress and a hamper, also Rip [her dog]. I had to leave all except Rip and the despatch case and arrange for the rest to be returned to South Famborough. Did a melancholy 3 miles peddling through the mud, with Rip tailing disconsolately behind. Several airplanes flew low across the road, and each time Rip squatted flat in the road petrified and refused to come on. As the road was full of traffic, it gave me several bad spasms.

At last I arrived at ‘Ye Olde Farm House’, as it is called, and was told Miss B. had not been able to meet me, but would I go down to the factory to see her. So I splashed back to the factory. Here I was met at the gates by an armed sentry who refused flatly to let me in. I went round to the other gate and was held up by a policeman. Returned to first gate and found a baker’s cart also trying frantically to get to ‘the new canteen’. We were told there was no new canteen, and we ought to have passes and he wasn’t going to let strange people into the factory etc. However, by the simple process of just ‘remaining’ until he got tired of the look of us, we were let in.

Then I had to find the canteen. No one had ever heard of it and it was rather like hunting a needle in a haystack - you are told it is near the head office and you find they are talking of the men’s canteen. Then you are told to turn left when you get to the oil store and you have to find out which is the oil store. Then you are told, ‘It’s no good going that way, the mud is too deep, you’d better go round by V department and then do the sleeper road till you get to the machine shop etc. Well, after a bit I arrived at the end of a long series of planks, which led across a huge morass to a wee little wooden hut, but there was no Miss Buckpitt, so I had to go away and come back later.

This time I found a very forlorn looking figure sitting on a box in the empty canteen, no table, no chairs, pots or pans, no cupboards or shelves only three tiny gas stoves, Miss Buckpitt and the box, and at the far end two men slowly and solemnly washing the floor. They had only bucket, one piece of soap and one flannel between them so their progress was not exactly rapid. The equipment was supposed to be on the road, so we sat and waited for its arrival. It turned up at about 7.30 and we worked like slaves the rest of the evening till nearly ten, unpacking and putting it in order. As the canteen was to open on Monday, there wasn’t much time to waste.’

20 December 1916
‘Here we are in Chester. Very nice rooms, very nice landlady, very nice place and very nice work.

There are three shifts: 5.30 am to 2.00 pm, 2.00 pm to 11.00 pm and 10.00 pm to 6.00 am. We do afternoon and morning alternately, with an occasional night, but night work doesn’t come very often as only two people do that at a time, whereas there are eight or nine by day. The factory is about 5 miles from Chester and you go by train. On the morning shift you have to rise at 4.00 am. Horrid! Still, you get the afternoon to yourself, and as the work is not too hard you aren’t too exhausted to enjoy yourself, as at Woolwich.

The work consists of the following duties:
Searching incoming workers for matches, cigarettes spirits etc. in pockets, baskets etc.
Searching outgoing workers for stolen property.
Keeping guard at the gate and allowing no one to enter without a pass.
Conducting stray visitors round and dealing with new workers, lost passes, lost clock cards etc.
Keeping order in the clocking shed. Locking and unlocking it.
Keeping the office where clerks etc. sign on and off, enquiries are made, visitors passes visa’d and entered etc.
Patrolling to see that no one is larking or slacking.

We take turns at all these various jobs, none of which were taught us during training. We have two hours off for meals, so life is not too strenuous.

Chester is a lovely old town of half-timbered houses, a fine cathedral, a very interesting old church and also a complete city wall you can walk all the way round, about 3 miles. The river is good for boating, so in the summer I shall try and learn how to row properly. Do you remember how Joan and I used to splash round at Tewksbury and Evesham, and how you scandalized the neighbourhood by paddling a canoe a la the university with its head in the air?’

5 January 1917
‘Marching orders again! This time, instead of giving or getting notice, we have been promoted. Buckie to sub-inspector and me to sergeant. We both go to Pembrey in South Wales in three days’ time.

But I must say a little more about this place. The factory is occupied making the following: Sulphuric acid, Nitric acid, Oleum, Guncotton, TNT. The result is the most terrific collection of stinks, or ‘fumes’, to put it less baldly, that you could possibly imagine. For patrolling purposes it is divided into four areas:
1. The Grills, consisting of five sulphur burners, acid coolers, platinizing plant etc. The burners each have forty furnaces, twenty doors on either side. Occasionally for cleaning purposes, ‘the blowers are taken off’. Exactly what that means, I don’t know, but the result is most fascinating. [. . . ]
2. Guncotton. The first few times you go round you think. ‘What an interesting place’, and are just brimming over with questions. Then one joyous day you are taken round by the sergeant and told exactly what everything is for and how everything is done. The next time or two, you are quite happy trotting round new constables and airing all your recently acquired knowledge. After a bit, they know as much as you do, or they think they do. After that, the guncotton ceases to interest you and the evil smell from the guncotton retorts becomes more noticeable.
3. The TNT stinks; no other word describes it - an evil, sickly chokey smell that makes you cough until you feel sick. But even the TNT is not so absolutely suffocating and overwhelming as the:
4. Middle Section. Here sulphuric is turned into nitric, and nitric into oleum. The air is filled with white fumes and yellow fumes and brown fumes. The particles of acid land on your face and make you nearly mad with a feeling like pins and needles, only more so, and they land on your clothes and make brown spots all over them, and they rot your hankies so that they come back from the laundry in rags, and they get up your nose and down your throat and into your eyes so that you are blind and speechless by the time you escape.

All over the place, there are, to cheer you on your way, notices telling you what to do if anyone swallows brown fumes: If concerned, give an emetic; If blue in the face, apply artificial respiration, and if necessary, oxygen.

Being quite sure you have swallowed numberless brown fumes, this is distinctly cheering. Each time you leave Middle Section, you feel like Dante returning from Hell.’

Gabrielle West’s diaries also figure in the National Archives online exhibition - Women and the First World War - with photos of pages from the diaries and transcripts.

Monday, December 19, 2016

To every historian’s despair

Today marks the 110th anniversary of the birth of Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet leader who did much to build up his country’s nuclear arms and its control over the Warsaw Pact countries. He was a rather vain man, who had himself awarded many medals in later life. His diaries also reveal the extent of his vanity, for they are full of detail about his hair, weight, clothes etc. But they also show, according to one modern writer ‘a total lack of intellectual and spiritual interests’ - ‘to every historian’s despair’.

Brezhnev was born on 19 December 1906 in Kamianske, Ukraine, to a metalworker and his wife. He studied at the metallurgical institute in Dniprodzerzhynsk (now Kamianske). In 1928, he married Viktoria Petrovna, and they had two children. After graduating in 1935, he worked as an engineer and director of a technical school, but also he began to hold positions in the local branch of the Communist party. Having survived Stalin’s various purges, in 1939, he was appointed Party Secretary in Dnipropetrovsk, and put in charge of the city’s defence industries.

During the Second World War, Brezhnev served as a political commissar in the Red Army, progressing steadily to become a major general in 1943, and head of the political commissars on the Ukrainian front. On leaving the army in 1946, he returned to high level party positions, gaining national prominence in 1950 when elected as first secretary of the Central Committee of the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. Two years later he was in Moscow, serving under Stalin in the powerful Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

With Stalin’s death in 1953, and Nikita Khrushchev’s rise to First Secretary of the Central Committee, Brezhnev was sidelined, and posted to lower positions, first in the ministry of defence and then in the Central Committee of the Kazakh Republic. However, his administrative skills won him a recall to Moscow and membership of the Politburo. In 1960, he was promoted to the post of Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, nominally head of state. In 1964, he resigned that post to become Kruschev’s assistant as Second Secretary. By this time, however, having been loyal to Khrushchev, Brezhnev had begun to side with those criticising his leadership, and may even have led to plot to remove him. Brezhnev took over as First Secretary (subsequently General Secretary) of the Communist Party later that same year.

Brezhnev’s early years as head of the Soviet Union were characterised by collective leadership: he left many affairs of state to colleagues, Aleksey Kosygin and Nikolay Podgorny, while he took charge of measures to control dissidence, through the Soviet Union, and travelled extensively aiming for more solidarity among the Union’s republics and its partners in East Europe. However, when Czechoslovakia tried to liberalise its Communist system in 1968, Brezhnev developed what became known as the Brezhnev Doctrine, justifying the invasion of Czechoslovakia by its Warsaw Pact partners. His leadership, in fact, would later be characterised by a massive build-up of nuclear arms, at a great cost to the country’s economy.

During the 1970s, Brezhnev sought to ease tensions with the West, especially the United States, while, at the same time, consolidating his own power base at home, diminishing the effect of collective leadership. He negotiated various weapons agreements with the US, culminating
 with SALT II in 1979 - although the US chose not to ratify it because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In his latter years, Brezhnev’s vanity led to a growing personality cult (he was obsessed with being awarded medals); and there was a marked deterioration in his health. By early 1982, he was rarely appearing in public, and was no more than a figurehead with decisions being made in the Politburo without his presence. He died in November that year. Further information is available form Wikipedia, Encyclopedia of World Biography, Encyclopædia Britannica, Spartacus, or Country Studies (Library of Congress).

Although Brezhnev kept diaries, there have been no published editions in English (possibly not in Russian either). Their existence first came to light in the 1990s when Dmitri Volkogonov, a Russian historian who had been head of the Soviet military’s psychological warfare department, published extracts in a Russian magazine called Top Secret. The US magazine, Newsweek, ran a brief item about that article, which is worth quoting in full:

BOMBS, SHMOMBS . . . what’s for lunch? Such were the thoughts that drove the leader of the Evil Empire at the height of the cold war. A newly published diary underlines the astonishingly pedestrian mind of Leonid Brezhnev, the burly Soviet leader derided by Russians for his senility and corruption. “Was home at the dacha. Had lunch - borscht with fresh cabbage. Rested in the yard, finished reading material. Watched hockey game - USSR-Sweden, 4-2,” Brezhnev recorded on April 10, 1977, just days after Moscow rejected an important U.S. arms-control proposal. Then came the most exciting part: “Watched evening news. Had dinner, went to bed.” Is it more - or less - scary to learn what the Soviet leader was really like? While Brezhnev faithfully recorded the monthly changes in his weight (ranging from 179 to 182 pounds), policy matters received only fleeting attention. “Talked to [Supreme Soviet Chairman Nikolai] Podgorny about soccer and hockey and a little bit about the constitution,” Brezhnev recorded months before a new Soviet Constitution was passed in 1977. The combined talents of Woody Allen and Nikolai Gogol probably couldn’t have produced a less significant historical document. The diary marks such high points of Brezhnev’s final years as a hunting trip on which he “killed 34 geese,” a visit to the circus and a game of dominoes with Podgorny. A more typical entry reads, “I didn't go anywhere. No one called. In the morning I had my hair cut, shaved and washed my hair.” Says historian Dmitry Volkogonov, who published excerpts from the diary in Top Secret weekly: “When I read this I was sorry for Brezhnev, but I was sorrier for the great nation he led.” ’

Volkogonov also makes mention of Brezhnev’s diaries in his biography of Lenin. This was translated into English, edited by Harold Shukman and published by The Free Press in 1994 as Lenin: A New Biography. Brezhnev wrote his diary every day, Volkogonov says, between ten and twenty lines, in a flowing, sweeping hand. And he gives a series of examples, as follows:

10 April 1077
‘Was at the dacha, had lunch. Borshch made with fresh cabbage Rested went outside read some papers. Watched hockey USR Sweden - USR won 4-2. Watched “programme vremya [Time]” Had dinner - sleep.’

21 January 1977
‘Rested at home for first half of the day lunched at home. Weight 85.200 Second half worked in Kremlin Signed PB [Politburo] minutes of 20 January. Bogolyubov reported . . .’

16 February 1977
‘Work at the house.’

18 March 1977
‘Exercise. Then talked to Chernenko. Then with C[omrades] Gromyko A.A., Andropov Ustinov - we read materials about Vance’s visit - Rang Pavlov G.S. on cost [next word started and crossed out] Read all kinds of material with Galya Dorishina Went to the circus.’

13 April 1977
‘Morning usual domestic chores. They took blood from a vein From 11 o’clock conversation with Daoud Question of one-to-one meeting dropped Had good rest - (lunch) Worked with Doroshina.’

14 April 1977
‘At home - Tolya washed my hair Weight 86.700 Talks with Podgorny about presenting me with Koms, card Presentation of Komsomol card No. 1 speech by Tyazhelnikov my speech Galya read serial from ‘pravda’ on limitation of strategic arms Who are the authors of this material Lunch and rest 2.30-4.10’

15 April 1977
‘Zavidovo 4 ducks - 33rd wild boar - 21- dragged’

22 April 1977
’86.400 Five o’clock meeting devoted to his [Lenin’s] birthday Talked with Grishin Gromyko Chernenko Doroshina

23-24 April 1977
‘Days off’

3 May 1977
‘Weight - 85.300. Talk with Ryabenko. Talk on phone with Storozhev? I know what he wants. Talk with Chernenko K.U.-? About PB agenda Tailors - gave the grey suit, got the leather double-breasted casual jacket Rang Yu.V. Andropov - he came and we chatted Worked with Doroshina’

3 June 1977
‘Received Chernenko - signed minutes worked with Galya Doroshina Rest - flew to Zavidovo - 5 boars.’

Volkogonov’s text (in the Lenin biography) continues: ‘And so it goes on [. . .] The diary meanders in this way for hundreds of pages. [. . .] The important point is that the Leninist system of the monopoly of power facilitated and even favoured the promotion of colourless, mediocre and semi-literate people, whose intellectual potential was only half-developed. Everyone knew it, and it suited almost everyone.’ He concludes: ‘Brezhnev’s pathetic diary only arouses one’s pity for the country.’

More recently, other writers have echoed Volkogonov’s assessment of Brezhnev’s diaries. Edwin Bacon, in his essay Reconsidering Brezhnev (found in Brezhnev Reconsidered, edited by Edwin Bacon and Mark Sandle, published by Palsgrave Macmillan in 2002), says: ‘The late Russian historian Dmitrii Volkogonov had access to the diaries of Leonid Brezhnev in the 1990s, and notes the mundanity of their content, and Brezhnev’s apparent obsession with minor, personal issues, rather than the great issues of state.’ Bacon quotes two extracts form Brezhnev’s diaries:

16 May 1976
‘Went nowhere - rang no one, likewise no one me - haircut, shaved and washed hair in the morning. Walked a bit during the day, then watched Central Army lose to Spartak (the lads played well) . . . 7 August. 19th day of holiday. Swam in sea 1.30 - massage pool 30 minutes. Washed head - with children’s soap . . .’

16 June 1977
’86.00 [kilograms]. 10 a.m. Supreme Soviet session. Appointment of Com. Brezhnev as chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet (a lot of congratulations).’

And, finally, Vladislav M. Zubok in his book A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War from Stalin to Gorbachev (University of North Carolina Press, 2009), states: ‘Along with many young Communists of the 1930s, Brezhnev acquired the habit of keeping a diary to raise his intellectual level. The diary’s content, however, reveals a total lack of intellectual and spiritual interests. To every historian’s despair, Brezhnev recorded mostly routine and banal events of his private life.’

Friday, December 16, 2016

The general emptiness

‘This life is nomadic, cold, transient, disordered. We are getting used to just hoping for the best. That wheezing accordion underscores the general emptiness. The cold click of a rifle bolt. Wind outside the window. Dreams and drifting snow.’ This is from the diary of Ivan Chistyakov, a cultivated Muscovite who was conscripted into Stalin’s army of internal troops and sent to guard forced labourers in the remote far eastern region of the Soviet Union. The diary has been translated by Arch Tait and is just published in the UK by Granta as The Diary of a Gulag Prison Guard.

Very little is known about Chistyakov. It is likely he was born at the very beginning of the 20th century. He lived in Moscow, not far from Sadovo-Kudrinkskaya Square on the inner ring road, and probably had some secondary education, may even have been an engineer. He took the tram to work, went to the theatre, played sport and enjoyed sketching - all details drawn from his later diary. During one of the extensive purges, he was expelled from the Communist Party in the late 1920s or early 1930s.

In 1935, Chistyakov was conscripted into the army, the internal troops, and sent to a so-called Gulag camp - Baikal-Amur Corrective Labour Camp or BAMLag - in the remote region around Svobodny, very roughly 5,000km east of Moscow and a 1,000 km north of Vladivostok. There he was given command of an armed guard platoon on a section of the Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM) railway being built with forced labour under the direction of GULag, the State Directorate of Camps of the NKVD (secret police). His platoon was charged with guarding the prisoners (zeks) on their way to work, patrolling the camp perimeter, and catching anyone trying to escape.

The prisoners built the railway in unbelievably severe geographical and climate conditions, in extremes of cold and rainstorms, laying track through untamed land, mountains, rivers, swamps, permafrost. Life was little better for the guards; and for Chistyakov it was a daily nightmare, the severe cold, the lack of a bathhouse, illness, terrible food. Early on, he confided in his diary that he was thinking of committing a minor offence to get himself a conviction. There is very little further information as to what actually happened to him. In 1937 he was arrested, only to be released the following year, and to meet his death
 during the first months of the war with Germany, in 1941, at the front in Tula Province.

According to Elkost, the international literary agency, ‘it is a miracle that Chistyakov’s diary somehow survived, that it did not fall into the hands of NKVD officials, that it was not discarded and destroyed, and that somebody managed to send it to Moscow.’ Since 1988, the diary has been held by the Memorial International Human Rights Centre in Moscow which collects documents, testimony, memoirs, and letters relevant to the history of political repression in the USSR. Elkost calls the diary a ‘unique historical testimony’ since there are few memoirs ‘written by people outside the barbed wire’. Elkost says it has sold the rights to publish the diary in more than half a dozen countries, as well as to Granta in the UK for worldwide English distribution. Indeed, Granta has just published The Diary of a Gulag Prison Guard in the UK, as translated by Arch Tait, with an introduction by 
Irina Shcherbakova. The book can be previewed at Googlebooks or Amazon

Here are several extracts.

6 November 1935
‘The frost is really setting in. Minus 18. I’ve put on my felt boots, a very good invention. We go through another one of our farces, searching the zeks for knives etc. They are so indignant. People need to be able to slice bread, peel potatoes, chop firewood, don’t they? If they had any serious weapons, they certainly wouldn’t store them in the huts. Budnikova (Article 35) rightly protests, and very forcefully. I would have done the same.

I give them a talk in the evening. They listen silently, mistrustful of every word. There is tension whenever we are present. I decide to leave. Budnikova has a way of petulantly kicking off her shoes. They dream of having boots, glance at my leather coat and say, ‘Nice boots that would make up into.”

“I’ll nick silk stockings just for you, but only tell me yes or no,” a baby-faced zek serenades me sarcastically.’

10 November 1935
‘This life is nomadic, cold, transient, disordered. We are getting used to just hoping for the best. That wheezing accordion underscores the general emptiness. The cold click of a rifle bolt. Wind outside the window. Dreams and drifting snow. Accordion wailing, feet beating time. There’s heat from the stove, but as soon as it warms up one side, the other gets cold. A fleeting thought: am I really going to have to put up with this for long? Is life just one perpetual shambles? Why? I want to let everything go hang and just float downstream, but I’d probably get banged up myself. Come on, head, think of something and I’ll buy you a cap!

Alas, the days here are filled with longing and anger, sorrow and shame. Your work is slapdash and you just hope for good luck. It’s degrading. Nobody thinks of us as people; they think of us as platoon commanders and that’s it. Periodically someone calls you a representative of the USSR government. I ‘sadly look back at the life I have lived’ [a line from a popular ballad Sleigh Bells], and kick myself yet again. I have to get out of this place! Think of something, wise up!’

27 November 1935
‘This is how we live: in a cramped room furnished with a trestle bed and straw mattress, a regulation issue blanket, a table with only three out of four legs and a creaky stool with nails you have to hammer back in every day with a brick. A paraffin lamp with a broken glass chimney and lampshade made of newspaper. A shelf made from a plank covered with newspaper. Walls partly bare, partly papered with cement sacks. Sand trickles down from the ceiling and there are chinks in the window frames, door, and gaps in the walls. There’s a wood-burning stove, which, while lit, keeps one side of you warm. The side facing towards the stove is like the South Pole, the side facing away from it is like the North Pole. The amount of wood we burn would make a normal room as warm as a bathhouse, but ours is colder than a changing room.

Will they find me incompetent, not up to the job. and kick me out? Why should I be sacrificed like so many others? You become stultified, primitive, you turn into a bully and so on. You don’t feel you’re developing, either as a commander or a human being. You just get on with it.’

28 November 1935
‘It’s cold outside, it’s cold inside, and it’s cold and cheerless inside me. How can you do a job properly if you have no interest in it and no wish to do it? And why is that? Because you don’t have the bare necessities of life and culture. The top brass don’t even talk about these things. Today we are faced with the fact that there is no firewood. I have to order people about. I don’t need all this. Why does it always turn out this way?

My hands are stiff with cold. Why is no one looking after us commanders? What do all the brave words amount to? If we had even a hundredth of what Voroshilov promised here, on the railway, we would at least have a little hope. All the talk is of The Second Five-Year Plan, Maxim Gorky, Klim Voroshilov. The USSR has unparalleled aeroplanes, but here we don’t have even the bare minimum. Oh, hell! The only consolation is that it was even worse at the front. Some comfort! I sleep under two blankets, a leather coat and a sheepskin jacket.

I just can’t find my place here in the Baikal-Amur Mainline system, probably because it doesn’t exist. It’s different for peasants. They get something out of it, learn new tricks, find out things they didn’t know. All I’m going to learn here is how to be a slob, not give a damn, and not get caught.’

28 March 1936
‘Day greets me with a ray of sunlight on the wall, shining through a crack. I experience a moment of sheer joy, like that sunbeam, then BAM immediately crushes it and our life here falls into even starker contrast. A life of never knowing and . . . can’t come up with a name for it because everything here is just dreadful.

1 Squad have lost it, which is no surprise. They’re stuck out in the forest with none of the amenities human beings need to live, e.g., food for the soul or the mind. They’re out of touch with civilization and have food only for their stomachs, so they end up behaving like animals. Even wolves gather and play together. But us? It is forbidden for two commanders of the same educational level to serve together. What sort of policy is that? They shift you from one place to another saying you were getting too close. We have screwball superiors who couldn’t understand human psychology even if they were allowed to and just demoralize you. I’ll stick it out till autumn, and at the end of September, that’s it! Freedom or jail! I now have one idea for getting discharged - a report or speech at a meeting. I have seven months to think something up. I do want to see the Far East Region in the summer, then I’ll have savoured all the seasons.

Bystrykin, a platoon commander, has TB but doesn’t want to leave. Why? Because for him this life is perfect and he gets fed. For me, it would be hip, hip, hurray!

Golodnyak has arrived. Why have the top brass moved him here? Is it clemency or does he scare them? I got talking to a doctor in the canteen and learned an interesting fact. One of our doctors qualified as a bookkeeper but is said to ‘know about diseases’. How amusing.’

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

To Bataan and Back

‘Why do the American people at home parade and rejoice in the glory of “all out” war when these poor devils here daily watch the seas and skies for the aid of the US which now appears too late. I have held hope all along for something to happen to get this mess straightened out and, mind you, I still have hope, but the situation is desperate.’ This is from the diary of Thomas Dooley, aide-de-camp to General Wainwright, commander of the Allied forces in the Philippines, on the day the Japanese took Bataan, the last remaining American stronghold in the region. The quote is taken from To Bataan and Back: The World War II Diary of Major Thomas Dooley, being published today by Texas A&M University.

Dooley was born in McKinney, Texas, in 1913. He studied engineering at the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (now Texas A&M University) - thus he’s often referred to as a Texas Aggie. After graduating in 1935, he signed 
up early the following year for active duty as a second lieutenant with the US Army, heading a Civilian Conservation Corps for six months. A year with the 2nd Squadron of the 12th Cavalry was followed by jobs in the oil industry. In 1940, he was reactivated for duty, and soon joined the 26th Cavalry in the Philippines, arriving in May 1941.

Dooley was assigned as aide-de-camp to Major General Jonathan M. Wainwright, commander of the Philippine Division, south of Manila. Later in the year, though, Wainwright was named as commander of North Luzon Force, and moved his HQ to Stotsenburg. Early on, Dooley was awarded the Silver Star for actions during the bombing of Clark Field in the Luzon region. He continued to serve with Wainwright through the Corregidor and Bataan campaigns, but was captured and held as prisoner of war for over three years. Following his release, he was a witness to the surrender of the Japanese on board the USS Missouri.

In the midst of bombings, in April 1942, with the Japanese about to overrun the Allies on Corregidor (a small Philippine island off the coast of Bataan), Dooley help compile a list of 25 Aggies on the island, and the artillery commander held an Aggie Muster (a long-standing tradition of the university to pause for a moment and remember and honour the dead). Dooley told a journalist about the muster, and the resulting article received massive coverage in the US, thus forever connecting Dooley to the enduring Aggie tradition.

Dooley remained in the army for the rest of his career, receiving a 
Distinguished Service Medal, with roles ranging from a Combat Command at Fort Hood, Texas, to a three-year assignment overseeing Fire Support Elements in Naples, Italy; his final positions were Chief of Staff of the Armored Command and Deputy Post Commander at Fort Knox, Kentucky. He died in 2006. There is only limited information about Dooley available on the internet, but he is mentioned on the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets website, on a chat thread at Free Republic, and on the Wikipedia page about the Aggie Muster.

Indeed, it is partly (or even mostly) thanks to Tooley’s role in the Aggie Muster on Corregidor that his diaries came to light, and have now been published - today, in fact, by Texas A&M University Press, as 
To Bataan and Back: The World War II Diary of Major Thomas Dooley. They were transcribed and edited by Jerry C. Cooper who explains, in his introduction, how he had been seeking permission to use a speech given by Dooley about the muster to the Texas A&M campus, when he asked about the diaries. And, subsequently, the family sent him copies, and agreed to Cooper transcribing, and possibly, publishing them. Following Dooley’s death the six small notebook diaries were turned over to the Texas A&M University Archives.

Texas A&M University Press says: ‘[Tooley’s] journals reveal the inside story of the battles of Bataan and Corregidor and with it the capture, imprisonment, and struggle for survival of tens of thousands of American prisoners of war. Dooley’s journals - dutifully maintained even as he was a prisoner - are at once witty, articulate, stark, and often reflective.’

To Bataan and Back is very handsomely produced with a good number of photographs, maps, glossary and an index. 
Dooley writes his diary with some flare and humour, but, still, this is largely a book for those interested in the Pacific theatre of WWII. Cooper supplies useful context information in italics through the text (rather than using footnotes), and there is a foreword by Col. James Edwin Ray. Cooper also provides a few facts about Dooley’s life before and after the war, but a more detailed and considered biography would have been useful and interesting. 

Here are a few extracts from Dooley’s diaries - with many thanks to Texas A&M University Press.

11 December 1941
‘Another air raid today. No casualties and little damage done. Casualties on Monday’s raid have been totaled - 82 dead and about 110 wounded. 29 dead were civilians - poor little Carenderas that worked near Batchelors Building. We are getting Jap planes down though. Lots of them are being hit and the Japs toss out equipment to lighten the load so they can get as far back toward their base as possible. Quite a few have been brought down near here though. One plane shot down near Mabalacat (east of Stotsenburg) and Chaplain [Maj. John E] Duffy brought a gun from it to G-2 section. Workmanship crude but they still fire. He reported that natives had buried the pilot and said he was man of larger size than the Chaplain which indicates he was a German. Planes in today’s raid carried Swastika markings. The Nazis have planned and directed the execution of all this. It (especially Monday) was too methodical and timely. My appetite has doubled. For breakfast, even, which prior to “this” consisted of coffee and toast - now consists of fruit, coffee, toast, bacon + eggs and anything else within reach. Am still sleeping like a log when I hit the bunk.’

15 December 1941
‘My intentions are to keep some sort of running account of what goes on in this fracas. Not a diary nor a memorandum, but a cross between the two. I am one week late in getting this poop on the go - that is, it will be one week old in about four hours. My turn came up as Duty Officer from 12:00 midnight to 8:00 a.m. and the routine being very quiet tonight I can get this under way. Corporal Molina, Battery A, 24th Field Artillery (Philippine Scouts) is the Non-Commissioned Officer on duty and he has just shown me a copy of the radiogram signed by General MacArthur saying “a state of war exists between the US and the government of Germany, Japan and Italy”.’

8 April 1942
Bataan fell! [Dooley added this entry in the top margin after recording the event.]
‘A new day which I hope proves to be no worse than yesterday. The II Corps pulled back during the night to a line approximately thru Lumao. All Filipino troops have disintegrated except about one regiment. The I Corps will have to pull back to conform. They (the Nips) continue their bombing of the new areas. These must be some salvation for the Americans on Bataan. Why do the American people at home parade and rejoice in the glory of “all out” war when these poor devils here daily watch the seas and skies for the aid of the US which now appears too late. I have held hope all along for something to happen to get this mess straightened out and, mind you, I still have hope, but the situation is desperate. The reports all day are bad. I took report at 7:00 p.m. which means the end of Bataan. Col. [James V.] Collier called from G-3 Luzon Force and said that Philippine Army troops on right flank of II Corps line had fled and the Japs pouring thru. Proved to be double envelopment as Nips were also coming around II Corps left flank. Col. Irwin (G-3) and Col. Galbraith (G-4) went to Bataan this p.m. with plans for evacuation of certain units to “Rock.” During night Ordnance + Engineers busy destroying ammunition + other such few supplies as need be.

Gen. Wainwright in conference most of day with Chief of Staff Gen. Lewis Beebe (who is quite sound). Gen. Wainwright quite upset. Two days ago Gen. Funk came to “Rock” for Gen. Edward King to say he was going to capitulate. Gen. Wainwright gave two direct orders - one - do not surrender - two - attack with I Corps toward East. Later the second order was modified. Last night when things looked so bad and plans for evacuation of certain units were made and order was given to Gen. (I Corps) to make a frontal attack with his Corps and attack Olongapo. Went to bed about 1:00 p.m. Frank Hewlett, United Press, wanted me to wait up and see the Bataan episode, but I didn’t want to watch it. I feel sick when I think of it and feel that I should be there with them, but I started this war with the General (and before it) and will stay around ’til ordered differently.’

22 December 1942
‘Pretty day - sunshine - Inspection 1:00 p.m. by Jap Quartermaster general. Breakfast + dinner - no good. Supper better - some gabi today - bridge - Gen. Wainwright sent Xmas greetings to English + Dutch. Choir + octette practice. Thoughts of home at this time make me ache.’

17 January 1943
‘Been here 5 months today. Today is memorable in that we had tripe for supper (in the soup). B.P. went down and made the arrangements at the slaughter house where they are killing beef for the Japanese army. He got for us the heart, liver, and stomach of the beef. We had tripe at supper and promise of heart, liver, + kidney for breakfast. “Edible awful” is the term some applied to our meal. Other than that the day was uneventful with inspection and church in a.m. and bridge in p.m. A cold day.’

14 April 1943
‘Distribution of Corned beef from the Red Cross started today. For first month we will receive 3 oz. corned beef per day; 1# sugar per week. We will get 1/2# cocoa + 1# salt per month. The Corned beef is Argentine beef and is wonderful. This small amount of Red Cross real food is remarkably raising the morale of everyone.’

Nothing to fear from the Soviets

Juho Kusti Paasikivi, the Finnish statesman who successfully guided his country towards peaceful relations with its much bigger and more powerful neighbour, the Soviet Union, died 60 years ago today. His diaries have been published in Finnish, but no translation exists in English. However, a few translated extracts can be found in history or biography volumes, such as Containing Coexistence: America, Russia, and the “Finnish Solution’, which, in fact, opens with a quotation from Paasikivi’s diary.

Johan Gustaf Hellsten was born in 1870 in the Häme region of central Finland, though he was brought up further south in Lahti. His mother died when he was four, and his father when he was 14, whereupon he was looked after by an aunt. He was educated at one of the first schools founded by the Fennomans (Finnish nationalist movement), and, in 1885, he Finnicised his name to Juho Kusti Paasikivi. He went on to study history at the Imperial Alexander University, focussing on Russian history and language, graduating in 1892, thereafter switching to law for postgraduate studies. Paasikivi achieved his masters in law in 1897 and, in the same year, married Anna Forsman. They had four children.

Paasikivi completed his doctoral thesis in 1902, and became an associate professor at the university. The following year, though, he was appointed director general at the state treasury of, what was still, the Grand Duchy of Finland, a position he kept until he resigned in 1914. From 1907 to 1913, with a short gap, he was also a Finnish Party member of parliament. Eschewing the direction of the Finnish Party politics, he took over as president of KOP bank, piloting the company, within the newly independent Finland over the next 20 years, to one of the country’s most successful. After the death of his wife, in 1931, he resigned his position at the bank, and returned to politics, as head of the right-wing National Coalition Party, successfully steering it away from radical right wing policies. In 1934, he married Allina Valve.

Having stepped down as chairman of the 
National Coalition Party, Paasikivi was persuaded to take the important diplomatic role of ambassador to Sweden. During the war years, he was brought into government as a kind of political adviser; and his negotiations with the Soviet Union (Finland and the Soviet Union were at war for much of the 1939-1944 period) brought him much respect both in Moscow and in Helsinki. Immediately after the war, in 1944, he was appointed prime minister. He brought a radically different kind of politics to the country, based on wanting a peaceful relationship with the Soviet Union. In 1946, he became Finland’s seventh president, holding that position until 1956. He died later that same year, on 14 December. Further biographical information is available at Wikipedia, National Biography of Finland or the University of Helsinki.

Paasikivi kept diaries for most of his life. These were edited by Yrjo Blomstedt and Matti Klinge and published in 1985 in two volumes as Paasikiven paivakirjat, 1944-1956 (Werner Söderström Osakeyhtiö, 1985). However, as far as I can tell, there is no English translation. A few snippets from the diaries appear in translation here and there, in biographies and/or history books, such as Containing Coexistence: America, Russia, and the “Finnish Solution” by Jussi M. Hanhimaki (Kent State University Press, 1997).

Containing Coexistence is the first full-scale study of Finland’s role in Soviet-American relations during the onset of the cold war, says the publisher. For the book, Hanhimaki drew on a wide range of multinational source material, including newly released archival materials, employing a comparative approach interrelating American, British, Finnish, Russian, and Swedish perspectives. Containing Coexistence will be of interest, the publisher claims, to historians and political scientists as well as to any scholar interested in American and Soviet foreign policies during the cold war, post-World War II international relations, or twentieth-century European history.

The following extracts from Paasikivi’s diary are quoted below in the context of the Hanhimaki’s narrative.

[Opening paragraph]
‘When Juho Kusti Paasikivi sat down to write in his diary on September 2, 1944, he was angry. “Our foreign policy has not been led with brains, but with buttocks,” the seventy-four-year-old conservative banker, politician, and former prime minister complained. “We should never have joined this war,” he added, accusing both the wartime leaders and the newly appointed president, Marshall C. G. E. Mannerheim, of shortsightedness and incompetence in handling Finnish foreign policy. The worst sin, Paasikivi would argue repeatedly in private conversations and public speeches until his retirement from Finnish political life in early 1956, had been to ignore the geopolitical realities of Finland’s position, that is, the country’s proximity to the Soviet Union. Such neglect had, according to Paasikivi, led to such recent disasters as the 1939-40 Winter War and Finland’s cobelligerency with Nazi Germany in 1941-44. This, he added, had led Finland to the brink of collapse by the fall of 1944 when Soviet occupation appeared imminent.’

[Page 91]
‘Paasikivi was also annoyed by Kekkonen’s decision to launch an active run for the presidency, complaining frequently about Kekkonen’s “American style” of campaigning in late 1949 and early 1950. “A president’s most important qualities are not talent in speech writing and propaganda, but wisdom and experience,” Paasikivi sarcastically remarked in his diary. For Kekkonen, however, the 1950 presidential campaign was a good opportunity to make his name more widely known to the general Finnish public, which payed dividends six years later.’

[Page 136]
‘By late 1955 Nikita Khrushchev emerged as the leader of the Soviet Union. But despite Khrushchev’s eventual success the days of undisputed one-man rule were over as a new era dawned in Soviet history in the spring of 1953. “We shall see how this affects our relationship with the Soviet Union and our general position in the world,” President Paasikivi wrote in his diary on March 4, 1953. It was to have a major impact in both respects.’

[Page 164]
‘Relieved [. . . ] had not meant a shift in Soviet attitudes toward Finland, Paasikivi wrote in his diary on July 29, 1954, “This proves that our relations with the Soviet Union are still good and we have nothing to fear from the Soviets.”  At the same time, however, Paasikivi was concerned about “the loss of good will in the U.S.” toward Finland.’

[Page 174]
‘That Finland was left to fight its internal battles without outside interference became clear during the Kemi strikes of August 1949. In this lumber town located at the head of the Gulf of Bothnia the Communist-dominated lumberjacks’ union began a strike on August 18. President Paasikivi had no sympathy for and few illusions about this labor action. He interpreted it as a communist effort to bounce back from the losses they had suffered in Finnish internal politics since the spring of 1948. As Paasikivi noted in his diary on August 18, 1949, “The Communists seem to want to regain their position of power and become dominant in Finland.” Paasikivi, however, trusted the Fagerholm government, which controlled a large part of the labor movement through the Social Democratic party, to have the ability to neutralize the strikes. Accordingly, Prime Minister Fagerholm declared that the strike was illegal and authorized the local police to break up the picket lines. On the same day, however, a riot ensued between the strikers and the local police; shots were fired, and one striker was killed. Paasikivi ordered a general alert of the armed forces; the government sent army troops to Kemi and arrested twenty-two leading activists. Meanwhile, the violence propelled a series of sympathy strikes around the country by other Communist-dominated labor unions such as the harbor workers and many metal union workers.’

Friday, December 9, 2016

A giant of Japanese literature

Natsume Soseki, one of the greatest and most important novelists of modern Japan, died a century ago today - events celebrating this anniversary in Japan are ongoing, not least the unveiling of a Soseki android! By contrast he is little known in the West, although he did, in fact, spend two years in the UK, and, on returning to Japan, became a leading scholar in English literature. Two diaries he kept while in London were put on display recently as part of an exhibition of his life and works. However, there are no published editions of his 12 diaries, and only occasional references to them in various biographies.

So seki was born in the Edo region of Japan (now Tokyo) in 1867, but his parents, with five older children already, gave him up for adoption to a childless couple. That couple looked after him until they divorced, when Soseki was 9, and he was returned to his parents. His mother died a few years later. In 1884, he entered Tokyo Imperial University with the intention of studying to become architecture, but, encouraged by his friend Masaoka Shiki, he became increasingly interested in literature, switching to the English literature department in 1890. On graduating, he continued to study but also teaching part time. In 1895, he left Tokyo to teach in Ehime and then in Kumamoto. In 1896, he married Kyoko, who gave birth to their first daughter in 1899; they would have five more but one would die very young.

From 1900 to 1902, Soseki lived in London - one of the first government-sponsored scholars to be sent abroad - attending lectures at University College (UCL) and doing research that would lead later to his Japanese monographs (Theory of Literature in 1907, and Literary Criticism in 1909). From 1903 to 1907, he was back in Tokyo, teaching at the university; however, he was also writing poetry and literary sketches for magazines, and producing his first novels, such as I am a Cat, Little Master (Botchan), and Grass Pillow. His literary reputation grew rapidly, and by 1907 he was able to give up teaching and become a professional novelist.

The Embassy of Japan in London has this assessment of why Soseki is important in Japan today: ‘Many of the novels of Soseki analyse the human psychology in depth, such as jealousy and love, or loneliness and friendship, so they are applicable even today. At the same time, the very clear style of his prose is now considered the standard for the modern Japanese language. In addition, he pointed out the need for the Japanese people to establish a sense of “individualism”, while at the same time being critical of the tendency toward the superficial “Westernisation” (meaning modernisation) of Japanese society. Such assertions and criticisms are still considered relevant for Japanese society and its people today.’

In 1909, Soseki travelled to Manchuria and Korea. The following year he was hospitalised for the first time with stomach problems, but continued writing, completing one or two more works (such as Kokoro, Grass on the Wayside) each year until his death - on 9 December 1916. According to The Japan Times, events to celebrate this 100th anniversary have been ongoing in Japan throughout 1916 (a university has even unveiled a Soseki android!), and will continue in 2017 with celebrations for the 150th anniversary of his birth. Indeed, The Japan Times begins a long article on Soseki as follows: ‘Fascination twinned with veneration of Soseki is exceptionally high in Japan. The Asahi newspaper has been serializing installments of his novels on a daily basis for several years, while a new Soseki museum is scheduled to open next year in the Tokyo district of Shinjuku, where the writer once lived. On television, meanwhile, a drama series titled “Soseki’s Wife” has attempted to show the revered author from his spouse’s perspective. By a considerable margin, Soseki is the most analyzed Japanese author in modern literature. Hundreds upon hundreds of books have been written about him and thousands upon thousands of academic papers published.’

There is some further information about Soseki at Wikipedia, The New World Encyclopedia or Encyclopaedia Britannica. Some translations of his works can be found at Internet Archive (Botchan, for example), and a 1957 translation of Kokoro can be read at ibiblio.

There appear to be twelve extant volumes of diaries kept by Soseki (see this librarians 1978 workshop report), and held by the Natsume Soseki Collection at Tohoku University Library. As far as I can tell, these have not been published in Japanese, and certainly not in translation. Donald Keene, writing in Rethinking Japan Vol 1: Literature, Visual Arts & Linguistics (Routledge, 2014), says he finds the diaries of Natsume Soseki ‘especially disagreeable’, but without further explanation.

In late 2013, UCL Library Services and Tohoku University Library held a collaborative exhibition in London - Natsume Sōseki, the Greatest Novelist in Modern Japan - to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of UK-Japan Academic Interaction. Some artefacts from this were then put on display by the Embassy of Japan in early 2014. Both exhibitions included the two diaries written in London - named as Diary of Drifting across the Sea and Diary from England in 1901. According to the Embassy of Japan: ‘These diaries are extremely important academic source materials, not only because they describe his student life but also because they contain a number of his unique thoughts on the difference between the Japanese and British societies from his own viewpoint of  civilisation theory.’

A brochure to accompany the UCL exhibition is freely available online, and contains photographs of the diaries, as well as translated quotes from each, as follows.

12 September 1900
‘When waking from a dream, I am far away from my familiar mountains. The vast and limitless ocean surrounds me.’

28 October 1900
‘Left Paris for London. There was a hard and bitter wind on board. I arrived at London in the evening.’

23 January 1901 [Queen Victoria had died the previous day]
‘Flags are hoisted at half-mast. All the town is in mourning. I, a foreign subject, also wear a black-necktie to show my respectful sympathy. “The new century has opened rather inauspiciously,” said the shopman off whom I bought a pair of black gloves this morning.’

Otherwise, various biographies of Soseki make occasional reference to his diaries.

The following two extracts are taken from Reflections in a Glass Door: memory and melancholy in the personal writings of Natsume Sōseki by Marvin Marcus (University of Hawaii Press, 2009).

18 July 1909
‘Oppressive heat. Daughters running all over the house, totally naked. Not a normal thing to do, the heat notwithstanding. The master of the house goes about writing his fiction, surrounded by barbarians.’

8 December 1911
‘This morning, my wife accuses me of being totally antisocial. “People come over for Hinakos wake, and you tell them not to bother, that they should just go home. Well, when I die, be sure not to plan any wake for me.” “But in that case the mice will come out in the middle of the night and gnaw at the tip of your nose.” “Fine with me - the pain would bring me back to life!” ’

And the following extract is taken from Chaos and Order in the Works of Natsume Soseki by Angela Yiu (University of Hawaii Press, 1998)

‘I carried my manuscript with me as notes. My stomach has been troubling me since yesterday, but since this is the last of the lectures, I took some medication and tried to hold out. My lecture was followed by Honda Setsudos “The Fundamental Problems in Finance and Economics” and Ishibashi Hakuyo’s “The Revision of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance.” The series ended at twenty past eleven. (There were four thousand seven hundred or eight hundred people in the audience, including fifty women. Since it was so packed, admission was restricted three times, and after seven o’clock no one else was allowed in the hall.) Staying in the Shiunro, despite not having eaten anything, I vomited blood.’ [Subsequently, Soseki was hospitalised again]

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Of Thee I Sing

‘Evening we were too tired to go to the Kit-Cat Club where a “George Gershwin Night” was on, so stayed in hotel & played 21.’ This is from a diary kept by Ira Gershwin, the American lyricist born 120 years ago today, while in London on a three month tour with his brother, George. The two brothers, famously, produced some of the most memorable musical hits of the 1920s and 1930s, not least Porgy and Bess, and Ira was the first lyricist to win a Pulitzer Prize - for Of Thee I Sing. There is not much information about Ira’s (few) diaries, but they are held by a charitable trust in San Francisco, and, though accessible to biographers, have never been published.

Israel Gershowitz was born on 6 December 1896 in the Yiddish Theater District of New York City, and was the oldest of four children. His father changed the family name to Gershwine (which later became Gershwin). He attended City College but dropped out, and worked as a cashier in the local Turkish baths. His younger brother, George, was already composing and ‘plugging’ (piano playing in stores selling sheet music) in Tin Pan Alley, when Ira, prompted by George, first became involved in the music business. Initially, he wrote lyrics under a pseudonym so as not to be seen as trading off his brother’s growing reputation. Very soon, though, the brothers were collaborating on their first musical - A Dangerous Maid.

In 1924, Ira and George wrote their first musical for Broadway - Lady, Be Good - which starred Fred and Adele Astaire and ran for 330 performances, transferring later to the West End in London. In 1926, Ira married Leonore Strunsky, and around the same time the brothers decided to live together in a large Manhattan house; this became a kind of artistic and musical hub of creativity. However, after a while, Ira moved to a farm north of the city, and at times George would join him there to work and collaborate. Through the 1920s and 1930s, they wrote music for a dozen successful shows as well as four films, and produced many hits, not least Tip Toes, Oh, Kay, and Funny Face.

In 1932, Gershwin, along with George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Of Thee I Sing. And, in 1935, Ira and George collaborated on Porgy and Bess, a box office failure, but considered by some to be Ira’s best work. Following George’s sudden death in 1937, Ira stepped back from writing for the best part of three years. Thereafter, though, and through the 1940s and into the 1950s, he teamed up with other composers - Jerome Kerm, Harold Arlen and Kurt Weill - writing the lyrics for many notable scores. In his latter years, he mentored several aspiring musicians, and collated and annotated much of his and his brother’s legacy before donating it to the Library of Congress. He died in 1986. More biographical information is available from Gershwin Fan, Wikipedia, George & Ira Gershwin or

Ira Gershwin must have kept a few diaries as they are quoted occasionally in biographies, in particular by Deena Rosenberg in Fascinating Rhythm: The Collaboration of George and Ira Gershwin (1991, University of Michigan Press). Rosenberg’s reference notes lists the Ira Gershwin Archive (IGA) - a collection of scrapbooks and clippings - as the source for diary quotations, and that ‘at present’ the IGA was still housed in Gershwin’s house in Beverly Hills, California. However, a few years earlier, in 1987, the Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trusts (ILGT) were established. When Lenore (Lee) died in 1991, her nephew, Michael Strunsky became much more involved in the Ira Gershwin estate - Trustee of the estate itself and of the two Trusts. In 2000, the organisations - and presumably all the archives - were moved from Beverly Hills to new quarters in downtown San Francisco. Some years later, in 2007, the ILGT began publishing Words Without Music - The Ira Gershwin Newsletter.

In the newsletter’s second edition, also in 2007, the managing editor, Michael Owen published two extracts from a diary Ira Gershwin kept during his three-month trip to Europe (with his wife, George and their young sister Frankie), ‘reviving a habit he had begun in 1916’. Here is the first extract:

22 March 1928
‘Up at 12. To the Embassy Club with Lee to meet Guy Bolton for lunch. My lunch very nice, too - smoked salmon (everybody eats smoked salmon here), filet of sole marguery, curried veal with chutney, coffee, wine, cake (cocktail & beer). The club was crowded with a lot of important looking men, mostly over 40 and a lot of young women. At the next table to us sat Arnold Bennett, Frederick Lonsdale & 3 other men. After lunch walked Guy down Piccadilly to the theatre where his “Blue Eyes” is rehearsing. Dropped in for a minute, saw John Harwood. Then to Anderson & Sheppard for fittings. Visited some other shops. Evening we were too tired to go to the Kit-Cat Club where a “George Gershwin Night” was on, so stayed in hotel & played 21 with Phil [Berman] & Leo [Robin], losing about £4. Frankie came in about 3 & told us both “This Year of Grace,” the Noël Coward revue opening to-night, & the Kit-Cat affair were great successes. The weather was lovely again to-day & it’s too bad we don’t get up earlier in the morning to do some sight-seeing. Changed $200 worth more of American Express checks to-day making 5 in all.’

As far as I can tell, though, the ILGT has not published any further information about Ira Gershwin’s diaries anywhere on its extensive website; and I haven’t been able to find anywhere online (or in biographies) a list or inventory of diary material Gershwin left behind. Nevertheless, here are several more extracts from the diaries as found in Rosenberg’s book Fascinating Rhythm (in the context of her text).

- ‘Ira read incessantly. The first book he remembered apart from school primers was a nickel novel. “That thin publication with its bright lithographed cover had a tremendous fascination,” he wrote in his diary in 1916. “Sitting by the warm stove, huddled in a chair, I read the marvelous adventures of Young Wild West, his sweetheart, his friends, and all about the claimjumpers on whom he finally and completely turned the tables. I read and reread it at least half a dozen times.” ’

- ‘Meanwhile, Ira enrolled as an English major at the City College of New York in 1914, and his omnivorous reading continued. “Everytime I had a dollar or two to spare,” he recalled, ‘‘I would walk from Second Avenue and Seventh Street to the old Dutton bookshop on 23rd Street to buy various volumes in the catalogue of Everyman’s Library. (Most of the classics - hard linen covers - were only 34 cents.)” He also read twentieth-century fiction and drama; his special favorites were Henry James, George Bernard Shaw, and Theodore Dreiser - in Dreiser’s case, at least in part because of his assaults on the constraints of a still-Victorian culture. “Altogether a great novel,” the twenty-year-old Ira noted in his diary after reading Dreiser’s The Genius, “not one for anaemic individuals, for prudes, for those who dislike anything but the conventional clap-trap of sweet young things by sweet old things.” ’

- ‘Ira was also drawn to the lively writers in the American popular press. During the early decades of this century, some American journalism was characterized by a high degree of literacy, intelligence, and humor. Essays, poems, short stories, and even novels flowed from the pens of a richly endowed generation into newspapers and magazines. “The Tribune Sunday Magazine is without a doubt the cleverest newspaper I have ever seen, with delightful drawings and smart literary sketches,” Ira noted in his diary in 1916. “It combines the wit of Life, chic drawings and sketches of Vanity Fair and Smart Set - and let us not forget the literary New Republic. The daily Tribune (bless its progressive soul!) I could hardly do without. F.P.A. very interesting, Heywood Broun, theatrical critic, delightful, Briggs, artist, human and humorous, S. H. Adams, “Advisor” column, fine editorials full of firm convictions, be they right or wrong, ever forceful, and on literary topics, ever instructive and entertaining.” ’

- ‘For Ira as well as George, Kern’s Princess Theater shows were a revelation. On January 15, 1917, he wrote in his diary: “Love O’ Mike: Kern music, with Harry B. Smith lyrics. Music and lyrics good. Book slow but many originalities. 1st - atmosphere of a house party was sustained throughout by having only young people in the cast (6 and 6) with college boy’s jealousies, etc.; no roues, biases, or mundanes. No chorus. Ira’s first first night.” ’

- ‘Ira kept close track of George’s career. He wrote in his diary on May 21, 1918: “George played Baltimore, Boston, and Washington with Louise Dresser. As yet his firm has printed nothing of his although 4 or 5 of his numbers have been filed away for use when opportunity presents. At present he is rehearsal pianist at the New Amsterdam Roof Garden where the 1918 Ziegfeld Lollies is in preparation.” ’

- ‘Ira still spent a lot of his free time “drawing, reading at the Ottendorfer branch of the Public Library, going to the movies,” supporting himself through a series of odd jobs such as cashier at B. Altman’s department store and business manager for his cousin’s touring carnival show. At twenty-one, he considered himself a “floating soul,” unsure where he would land. Meanwhile, he kept up his diary, taking note of a wide variety of matters that would become useful later on. For instance, Ira used entertainment events to observe human behavior: “The movies and their audience,” he wrote in 1918, “are a good means of studying. Yes. Psychology, ethics, fashions, manner. Manners. Would be’s. Have beens. Never weres. Can’t be’s. Impossibles. And here and there an occasional Is and Are.” ’

- ‘As always, the Gershwins met assorted luminaries. On May 30, 1928, Ira wrote in his diary: “After dinner we drove to Dushkin’s  [the eminent violinist], 160 Rue de l’Université, where was a musical party - a Concerto for two violins by Bach, then Vladimir Horowitz played, then George. Nice formal people there and a nice formal party. Later Horowitz played his study on Carmen, a marvelous technical accomplishment. Dushkin also played [George’s] Short Story and Blue Interlude accompanied by George.’’ ’

Monday, December 5, 2016

Rubicund, serene, puffing

A century ago today saw the resignation, amid high political drama, of Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith. He had been the UK’s leader for more than eight years (having taken over from Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman who resigned because of ill-health), first as head of a Liberal government with a very slim majority, and then as head of war coalition government. However, he was forced to step down, and his rival Liberal David Lloyd George took over as Prime Minister to lead a coalition with a cabinet dominated by Conservatives. Wikipedia’s biography of Asquith gives a day-by-day account of what happened prior to, and on the day of, his resignation.

But, for a more personal view of events that day, 100 years ago, it is worth revisiting the diaries of Lady Cynthia Asquith, wife of Asquith’s second son Herbert - see Heartbreaking day for more about Lady Cynthia and her diaries. On that ‘historic’ night, she was dining at 10 Downing Street, and sat next to the Prime Minister, who was ‘rubicund, serene, puffing a guinea cigar’ and talking of going to Honolulu, while his wife, Margot, looked ‘ghastly ill - distraught’. The diary extract below comes from a 1987 Century Hutchinson reprint of The Diaries of Lady Cynthia Asquith 1915-1918 (originally published by Hutchinson in 1968).

5 December 1916
‘Lunched Bluetooth - he was very sad about Bron and perturbed about political situation. He seemed still to hope that the P.M.’s resignation might be averted. He said, rather reproachfully, that Montagu had secured his position with both parties. He twitted me again with my (according to him) reputed incapacity for loose talk.

I was dining early with Oc for his last night, but he telephoned to say dinner was postponed until 8.45 as the P.M. was in after all and the theatre was abandoned. It was great luck for me to dine at Downing Street on so historic a night. The atmosphere was most electric. The P.M. had sent in his resignation at 7.30 - a fact I was unaware of when I arrived and only gradually twigged. Oc, the Crewes, Eddie, Cis, and Elizabeth and Margot were dining.

I sat next to the P.M. - he was too darling - rubicund, serene, puffing a guinea cigar (a gift from Maud Cunard), and talking of going to Honolulu. His conversation was as irrelevant to his life as ever. Our subjects were my mandrill riddle (which Beb had told to a startled party the other day), and this wonderful brand of cigars. I asked for one to give Beb for Christmas and he gave it to me. Cis afterwards offered me ten shillings for it. I had a great accès of tenderness for the P.M. He was so serene and dignified. Poor Margot on the other hand looked ghastly ill - distraught (no doubt she was, as she always claims, ‘rumbling’) - and was imprecating in hoarse whispers, blackguarding Lloyd George and Northcliffe.

When we first came out Elizabeth, Lady Crewe and I had an à trois - Margot joined us. When the men came out she, Mr Asquith and the Crewes played bridge. Violet came in, bringing with her Mr Norton and Sir Ian Hamilton - the latter to say goodbye to Oc. Of course, the whole evening was spent in conjecture and discussion - most interesting. I tried to absorb as much as I could, but I am not quick about politics. I gathered that, before dinner, Mr Asquith had said he thought there was quite a chance of Lloyd George failing to form a Government at all. The Tories - in urging him to resign - had predicted such a failure. In any case, most people seemed to think that any Government he could succeed in forming would only be very short-lived. Of course Lloyd George would greatly prefer Bonar to be Prime Minister, in order himself to avoid incurring the odium of responsibility. The King had sent for Bonar but, of course, it would be very difficult for him to accept the office on the terms which had made Asquith resign it. The King is alleged to be very terribly distressed and to have said, ‘I shall resign if Asquith does’. The prospective attitude of the Liberal ministers was discussed. Everyone was convinced that not one of them would take office under Lloyd George, with the possible exception of Montagu. Bluetooth had assured me that the latter would, but nearly all the Asquith family repudiated the idea. George had been a very wily, foxy cad, and the Government whips must have been very bad, as apparently the P.M. was very much taken by surprise.

It had been a well-managed plot. According to Margot and others, Northcliffe has been to Lloyd George’s house every day since the beginning of the war, the imputation being that George feeds him with Cabinet information, telling him the next item of the Government programme, so that he is able to start a Press agitation, and thus gain the reputation of pushing the Government into their independently determined course of action. It was said that the F.O. was really Lloyd George’s ambition, and during the last weeks he has been going to the Berlitz School and reading histories of the Balkans. I believe the French like him, but he is loathed in Russia and Italy. He has had to cart Winston - whose exclusion was, I believe, one of Bonar’s conditions. Certainly one cannot imagine a crazier executive titan George, Carson, and Bonar, Of course, it would virtually be only George.

Was it my last dinner at Downing Street? I can’t help feeling very sanguine and thinking the P.M. will be back with a firmer seat in the saddle in a fortnight. I only hope to God he is - disinterestedly because I really think him the only eligible man. Incidentally, what could happen to all our finances I daren’t think! Certainly it is a most painfully interesting situation - deeply to be deplored at this juncture I think - and it’s rather disgusting that such seething intrigue should survive war atmosphere.

Oc saw me off in the tube. Very sad to say goodbye and he had a tear in his eye. Lost my head and passed through Charing Cross three times owing to political excitement. Got home very late. Talked to Papa. The P.M. said The Volunteer was incomparably the best war poem.’