Thursday, October 26, 2017

A Chill in the Air

Pushkin Press is today publishing a recently uncovered diary written by the celebrated English biographer Iris Origo - A Chill in the Air. While this new diary was kept during the early years of the Second World War, her only other diary, first published 70 years ago, was written during the last years of the war - see La Foce is liberated. Pushkin Press says A Chill in the Air is a ‘sad and gripping account of the grim absurdities that Italy and the world underwent as war became increasingly unavoidable’.

Iris Margaret Cutting was born in 1902, the child of an Anglo-Irish mother and a rich American father. She was educated privately in Florence, Italy, and, with inherited wealth, spent much time in her youth travelling. She married an Italian nobleman, Antonio Origo, and together they developed a rundown farming estate, La Foce, some 150km north of Rome. They had one son who died young of meningitis, and two daughters. In the 1930s, Origo turned to writing, publishing biographies of the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi and Cola di Rienzo, a fourteenth century Roman politician.

During the war, the family stayed at La Foce where they secretly took in refugee children and helped escaping Allied prisoners. After the war, Origo lived in both Rome and La Foce, and she continued writing biographies but also autobiographical books - the first of which was a diary: War in Val d’Orcia (Jonathan Cape, 1947, but reissued in 1999 by Allison & Busby). Indeed, this has become the most admired of all of her books. She was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1976, and died in 1988.

Today, Pushkin Press has published A Chill in the Air: An Italian War Diary 1939-1940, complete with an introduction by biographer Lucy Hughes-Hallett, and an afterword by Origo’s granddaughter Katia Lysy. Hughes-Hallett explains that there is very little of a personal nature in the diary. Rather, she says, it is ‘a curious mixture of news - both fake and genuine - rumour, comment and observation’, with radio broadcasts being a focus of many entries. Indeed, this diary style in war time of monitoring the news rather than one’s own personal life was very common, and, in fact, is similar to another recent release by Pushkin Press - Astrid Lindgren’s A World Gone Mad - see Let there be peace.

The publisher has included, at the very end of the diary entries, a note by Origo on why the diary stops when it does: ‘This diary was interrupted at this point by the birth of my daughter on August 1st. In the autumn I decided, having a wonderful Swiss nanny to help me with my baby, that inaction was no longer bearable. Surely there must be some work, directed towards the relief of suffering rather than any war aim, which even I, an Anglo-American and a non-Fascist, could find to do? In the autumn of 1940 I began to work in the Prisoner’s Branch of the Italian Red Cross - and until the spring of 1943 had no more time for writing.’

And further explanation is found in Katia Lysy’s afterword. She says that her grandmother never intended to publish any of her diaries, but was persuaded to do so with the War in Val d’Orcia because ‘she strongly believed the rest of the world should hear the other side of the story - how ordinary Italians in a remote Tuscan valley suffered the consequences of war and did not hesitate to rescue and shelter their fellow human beings at great personal risk.’ However, Lysy speculates, she must have considered her pre-war journal to be of little interest to others when compared to the later ‘world-shattering events’. In the 1980s, an Italian editor encouraged Origo to edit the earlier diary for publication, but with her health declining she never took on the task. The diary was only re-found much more recently - ‘in a promising-looking brown box bearing the legend “Unpublished” in my grandmother’s familiar scrawl’ - during a search for family photographs. And so, finally, 70 years after the first, Pushkin is publishing this second diary - as part of the ‘Iris Origo revival, following the republication of four of her books earlier this year.’

Here are three short extracts from the new book (with thanks to Pushkin Press).

5 July 1939
‘Yesterday, driving through Scandicci (where there is a large home for permanently disabled soldiers) I met, in his wheelchair, one of the most terrible “grands mutiles” of the 1914-18 war that I have ever seen. Both legs gone, blind, and most horribly disfigured - and still alive, after twenty years.
And in 1959?’

7 June 1940
‘Still no definite news. But the first outward signs of war reach our valley. In the early morning 35 bombers heading South fly over us, and in the afternoon about 50 military lorries, bound for the aviation camp at Castiglion del Lago, drive up the road from Rome. The peasants look up as they hear the rumble, say resignedly Ci siamo - and get back, while they can, to their hay.

The radio starts atrocity stories about the behaviour of the Allied troops in Belgium, including a detailed story of the “massacre” by French officers of some innocent Italian miners, and the statement that 1500 Belgian refugees have been murdered deliberately by British bombardments on the Belgian frontier. Such stories, however, don’t as yet go down well. Even two boys of 16 and 18, who are staying here, merely shrug and say disgustedly: “Who do they expect to believe it?” ’

3 July 1940
‘My first air raid last night. The sirens began just after midnight; I was still awake and was joined by William Phillips [her godfather, and US ambassador to Italy]. We sat talking pleasantly in the dark for about one hour, heard one distant burst of fire and then the all-clear signal. Altogether a singularly unalarming experience, except apparently to the lions in the Zoo, who went on roaring all night. But, as the first wail of the sirens was heard, my thoughts went to England and France.’

Friday, October 20, 2017

Tasks to do now

‘Tasks to do now: 1) Finish small jobs as soon as possible (shooting, quality control, Lobachevsky). [. . .] 3) Maintain constant and steady work on big projects (analysis course, turbulence, spectra). Only later let mathematics join the variety of purely personal and general interests and hobbies that have flourished in the last two years.’ This is from a diary kept - albeit briefly - by one of most eminent of Soviet 20th century mathematicians - Andrey Nikolaevich Kolmogorov - who died 30 years ago today. There appear to be only a few, tantalising extracts of a diary he kept in his 40th year, and even fewer that have been translated into English.

Kolmogorov was born in Tambov, some 300 miles south of Moscow, in 1903, but his unmarried mother died in childbirth, and he was raised by two aunts on the estate of his aristocratic grandfather in Yaroslavl, 160 miles northeast of Moscow. In 1910, his aunt adopted him, and they moved to Moscow. There he graduated from high school in 1920 and went on to study both at the Moscow State University and the Mendeleev Moscow Institute of Chemistry and Technology. He attended seminars by the Russian historian S. V. Bachrushin, and he published his first research paper on medieval landholding practices in the Novgorod Republic. At the same time, he worked out and proved several results in set theory and in the theory of Fourier series.

Kolmogorov graduated from Moscow State University in 1925, by which time he had published ten papers, mostly on trigonometric series, and he continued publishing influential work until completing his doctorate in 1929. He was then elected a member of the university’s Institute of Mathematics and Mechanics, and a professor in 1931. That same year he published the influential work, About the Analytical Methods of Probability Theory. This was followed in 1933 by Foundations of the Theory of Probability, laying the modern axiomatic foundations of probability theory which established his international reputation. He was appointed director of the Mathematical Research Institute at the university, a position he held until 1939 (and then again in the early 1950s).

From 1938, Kolmogrov also headed the new department of probability and statistics at the Steklov Mathematical Institute. He was elected to the Academy of Sciences in 1939. He married Anna Dmitrievna Egorova in 1942. During WWII, he contributed to the Russian war effort by applying statistical theory to artillery fire, and by developing a scheme of stochastic distribution of barrage balloons intended to help protect Moscow from German bombers. After the war, he focused his research on turbulence, making a significant contribution to this scientific area, and becoming head of the Turbulence Laboratory at the Institute of Theoretical Geophysics in Moscow. In the mid-1950s, he began to work on problems of information theory; and, in the 1960s, he turned his attention to automata theory and theory of algorithms, and also to pedagogy, writing and rewriting school textbooks. He was much recognised in his lifetime with honours both at home and abroad. He died on 20 October 1987. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Scholarpedia, or MacTutor.

According to an article in the Asia Pacific Mathematics Newsletter, Kolmogorov began keeping a diary at the age of 40, and wrote on the title page: ‘Dedicated to myself when I turn 80 with the wish of retaining enough sense by then, at least to be able to understand the notes of this 40-year-old self and to judge them sympathetically but strictly.’ The article also includes excerpts from the diary, translated by Fedor Duzhin, that were first published in Russian in 2003 on the 100th anniversary of Kolmogorov’s birth. Some extracts from this diary English also appear in A Biographical Sketch of His Life and Creative Paths written by A. N. Shiryaev and found in an edition of History of Mathematics called Kolmogorov in Perspective (Volume 20, American Mathematical Society and London Mathematical Society, 2006).

The following extracts are taken from Duzhin’s translation.

1 August 1943
‘New Moon. 6:30 am. It is a little misty and yet a sunny morning. Pusya and Oleg2 have gone swimming while I stay home being not very well (though my condition is improving). Anya has to work today, so she will not come. I ’m feeling annoyed and ill at ease because of that (for the second time our Sunday readings will be conducted without Anya).

Why begin this notebook now? There are two reasonable explanations: 1) I have long been attracted to the idea of a diary as a disciplining force. To write down what has been done and what changes are needed in one ’s life and to control their implementation is by no means a new idea, but it ’s equally relevant whether one is 16 or 40 years old. 2) Now that I’m 40, I feel more deeply as life flows and goes by since past experience has an independent significance as compared to what one expects at 16 or even 30, when everything is viewed as a preparation for a distant future. Hence the need to capture the present at the very moment it transits from the non-existence of something that has yet to happen to the non- existence of something that has already passed by.

Possibly, the third reason put forward is contentious. 3) The period of psychological research that began in February has been decided to be brought to an end. That caused a certain slackness in me and Pusya in July. So, this diary is being pursued to restore the discipline and at the same time to allow the passion for psychological research to be released in a more organised manner. Hopefully, there will not be too much of this research.

Eventually, this notebook might see some memories, thoughts, psychological analyses besides short current notes, but it will only happen after I have put my life in order.

Tasks to do now: 1) Finish small jobs as soon as possible (shooting, quality control, Lobachevsky). 2) Family matters (bring Vera and Varya, send Varya to Nadya, bring Anya from work and so on). 3) Maintain constant and steady work on big projects (analysis course, turbulence, spectra). Only later let mathematics join the variety of purely personal and general interests and hobbies that have flourished in the last two years.

Most important now: 1) Discipline in doing boring work. 2) Confident and consistent clearing [of tasks] to find possibilities for working calmly on big projects. 3) Fighting temptations (sweets, reading at the wrong time), including updating this notebook immoderately. (Agreement with Pusya to limit chatting!)

And where is love (Christian and non-Christian) I think a lot about and maybe talk too much about (for instance, to Oleg)? It seems that it is for the sake of love that I have to concentrate on disciplinary rules listed above!

Enough with reasoning! However, it ’s not prohibited to supplement records of labour deeds with short notes on moods and pleasures of life.’

7 August 1943
‘It is a little misty, milk-sunny, warm day. During the morning and after lunch I edited the first 15 pages of Gubler s work (had to completely rewrite 7 pages). Satisfied with my work.

Pusya is listlessly writing on Lobachevsky, editing Yura ’s poetry, being upset about the Kazan troubles. Marina was taken ill and Shurka drove her to a hospital in a horse cab accompanied by Spitsyn.

A letter came from Sergey Musatov telling us that he could come to Komarovka no sooner
than in a month. He also mentioned that he wanted to write more to me about certain questions .

21 November 1943
’Finally, on the way home from Dimetrusya I resolved my some rather naive puzzle on what distinguishes characters from positive-definite functions (and why characters are generally positive-definite yesterday I discovered that I had not understood that before!).

Let G = {g} be represented by operators Ug (unitary) in E’. [ . . .] What remains now is to find out what representation is induced by x (g): for instance, is it always a representation in Er2? My definition of a character seems to work for all locally bicompact groups. However, Gelfand mentioned that, generally speaking, there was no analogue of characters as positive-definite functions. [. . . ]’

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Nixon - ‘the greatest shit’

‘I have never really doubted, since Watergate began to unravel, that Nixon would be removed or would resign before January 1977. This confidence was based essentially on a sense that Nixon was the greatest shit - probably the only shit - ever elected President of the United States, and that no disclosure about his greed and knavery would ever be the last.’ This is from the diary of Arthur Meier Schlesinger, Jr., one of the United States’s most important postwar historians. Today marks the 100th anniversary of his birth. As a young man, he served in the administration of John F. Kennedy, a contemporary and friend from Harvard, and subsequently he wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning book about Kennedy’s White House. He kept diaries for almost all the second half of the 20th century, a feat which was only revealed by his agent in 2006. Schlesinger then asked his two oldest sons to edit the journals, but he died as they were completing the task. Publication, a few months later, was hailed as a landmark event in the history of American letters. Indeed, key moments in the diary include the Bay of Pigs crisis, the death of Marilyn Monroe, and the impeachment of Nixon.  

Arthur Bancroft Schlesinger was born in Columbus, Ohio, on 15 October 1917, but he later took the middle name of his father (Meier), a prominent historian at Harvard,
 Massachusetts. He, himself, graduated from Harvard in 1938, and spent a year at Cambridge University before returning to Harvard as a research fellow. He married Marian Cannon in 1940, they would have four children. After failing his military medical, he joined the Office of War Information, and from 1943 to 1945 served as an intelligence analyst in the Office of Strategic Services, a precursor to the CIA. In 1945, he published The Age of Jackson based on a series of lectures he had given in 1941 entitled ‘A reinterpretation of Jacksonian democracy. The book won a Pulitzer Prize, and the following year Schlesinger was appointed associate professor (then a full professor from 1954) at Harvard.

From a young age, Schlesinger played an active role as a Democrat in state and national politics, being heavily involved in Averell Harriman's campaign for the 1952 presidential nomination, and then helping Adlai Stevenson during his unsuccessful 1952 and 1956 presidential campaigns. Schlesinger then aligned himself with Senator John F. Kennedy, a friend from Massachusetts. After Kennedy’s election in 1960, he took extended leave from Harvard to join the Kennedy administration, serving as a Latin American expert and a liaison with the academic community. After the President’s assassination, Schlesinger returned to academic life. In 1965, he published A Thousand Days an account of the Kennedy White House that won him a second Pulitzer Prize. A year later, he became the Albert Schweitzer Professor of Humanities at the City University of New York, and settled in Manhattan. 

In 1970, Schlesinger divorced Marian, and the following year he married Alexandra Emmet Allan, with whom he had a further child. Though an academic, his intellectual life remained focused on politics through his influential books and speaking tours (and, occasionally, through speechwriting services and giving advice to Democrat campaigns). For many years, he was considered the leading intellectual of postwar liberalism. He died in 2007. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, New York Public Library, Notable Biographies, The New York Times, JFK Library, or Spartacus.

Schlesinger kept diaries for most of his adult life, and these were regularly transcribed by his secretary, yet even his family knew little about them. They were found in 2006 in Schlesinger’s office by his agent. Soon after, Schlesinger asked his two oldest sons - Andrew and Stephen - to edit them for publication. His publisher, The Penguin Press, made the decision to publish the journals in a one-volume abridged edition in time for Schlesinger’s 90th birthday, in mid-October 2007. Despite the short deadline, the sons took up the challenge, and were able to consult their father from time-to-time. They noted, however, that ‘there was astonishingly little he wished to take out’. However, their father died before they could complete the task, though publication went ahead that same year.

The journals are largely concerned with public life: ‘While he did write about his family and his two wives,’ the sons say, ‘his mind was always most keenly focused on the events of the day.’ In particular, they say, he followed closely the quadrennial Democratic presidential conventions for they ‘marked the great moments of possible change in the country, but also signaled the time when everyday citizens had a chance to vent their feelings and take action in a democratic way.’ And just as fascinating for him, they add, were the political campaigns that followed the conventions: ‘Like an anthropologist picking through the scattered debris of an ancient site, our father observed these races carefully and assessed their building blocks, their strategic imperatives and their often messy internal structures.’

According to the publisher: ‘These are not personal journals of the “where I had lunch” variety; this is one of twentieth-century America’s greatest moral and intellectual forces chronicling the big stories of his and our time, usually from the inside out. Their publication is truly a landmark event and a fitting opportunity to celebrate a most extraordinary American life.’ The following extracts are taken from the UK edition (Atlantic Books, 2008) of Journals, 1952-2000 by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. as edited by Andrew Schlesinger and Stephen Schlesinger (first published in the US by Penguin Press, 2007).

6 February 1961
‘I settled down in an office in the East Wing of the White House and tried to find out what I was supposed to do. I had the impression that JFK was equally baffled, and he had somewhat more weighty matters on his mind. McGeorge Bundy was most helpful in this sterile period, as was Fred Holborn. The others at the White House went about their business.

JFK decided to have a personal representative accompany [George McGovern] the Food For Peace mission and underline his concern about general Latin American problems. Because he had been told of the disaffection of the Latin American intellectual community, the choice fell on me. I guess he decided that this would dramatize as effectively as anything the shift from the Old to the New Frontier. My first reaction to the proposal that I should go was that it sounded like a WPA project. But on consideration it seemed to present opportunities; and in any case I had no real choice but to go (though JFK put it up to me in a manner which would have permitted me to decline).

What Latin America needs above all is revolution - not proletarian or peasant revolution, but middle-class revolution. Mexico, Brazil and Argentina have achieved semi-revolutions. The other countries (how rashly I generalize) remain under the control of the landholding oligarchy. This oligarchy constitutes the chief barrier to the middle-class revolution and, by thwarting the middle-class revolution, may well bring about the proletarian revolution.

The gap between the U.S. and the rest of the hemisphere is widening - i.e., our living standards are rising faster than theirs.’

18 April 1961
‘The pace began to quicken in Cuba over the weekend. On Saturday, fliers landed in Florida after attacks on Cuban air fields and claimed to be defectors. Through an unfortunate misunderstanding, Stevenson in New York was permitted by the State Department to testify to this effect in his UN speech Saturday afternoon. They were not defectors. This, plus the impression given Stevenson by the CIA that no action was imminent, made him unhappy and suspicious over the turn of events. The President, who probably had misgivings of this own, responded to this mood and called off an air strike scheduled for Monday morning. This meant that the landings at the Bay of Pigs had to take place under the guns of what remained of the Cuban Air Force. In particular, the Cuban T-33s [Lockheed jets] turned out to be far more effective than any of us had been led to suppose. This created havoc on Monday and Tuesday. In addition, Castro’s tanks reached the beachhead sooner than had been expected. And the landings failed to set off mass uprisings behind the line. By Tuesday evening, it looked to be all over. It was a grim and sad two days. Many fine men have been killed or lost; and one cannot resist the belief that this was an ill-considered and mistaken expedition.

I had seen Scotty Reston Monday afternoon. At the end of the afternoon I reported this to the President, who decided that it might be a good idea to have Scotty in for luncheon on Tuesday.
JFK was in superb form at lunch. Scotty went away starry-eyed (as did I). We talked a little about Cuba, though without going into operational detail. The President made it clear that he felt he had been given poor advice by the CIA. “I probably made a mistake in keeping Allen Dulles on,” he said. “It’s not that Dulles is not a man of great ability. He is. But I have never worked with him and therefore I can’t estimate his meaning when he tells me things. We will have to do something about the CIA. I must have someone there with whom I can be in complete and intimate contact - someone from whom I know I will be getting the exact pitch.” He added, “I made a mistake in putting Bobby in the Justice Department. He is wasted there. Byron White could do that job perfectly well. Bobby should be in the CIA.” (In my view, the President is dead right.) He spoke about all this in excellent humor. “Dulles,” he said, “is a legendary figure, and it’s hard to operate with legendary figures. . . It is a hell of way to learn things, but I have learned one thing from this business - that is, that we will have to deal with the CIA. McNamara has dealt with Defense; Rusk has done a lot with State; but no one has dealt with the CIA.”

Given the faltering of the Cuban adventure, the next question is whether we should accept defeat or enlarge our support of the rebels. Stewart Alsop, with whom I had a drink at the Metropolitan Club before the lunch, had argued that defeat would cause irreparable harm; that we had no choice but to intervene, if necessary, to avert disaster. But the President had already made his mind up on this. He felt that defeat in Cuba would obviously be a setback; but that it would be an incident, not a disaster. The test had always been whether the Cuban people would back up a revolt against Castro. If they wouldn’t, we could not impose a new regime on them. But would not U.S. prestige suffer if we let the rebellion flicker out? “What is prestige?” said the President. “Is it the shadow of power or the substance of power? We are going to work on the substance of power. No doubt we will be
kicked in the ass for the next couple of weeks, but that won’t affect the main business.”

After the luncheon, I joined Mac [Bundyj and Ken O’Donnell in the President’s office. Ken, who has penetrating good sense on practically everything, suggested the general line: the Cuban insurgents should say that they achieved their basic objectives - supply and reinforcement -  and vanish into the hills. The President was still playing around with the idea of evacuating the patriots from the beaches; but Mac feared that this would provide evidence of U.S. intervention without bringing us any gains. I was glad to see that Mac accepted the situation and did not favor the commitment of U.S. forces. In an interlude, we discussed the CIA situation. Mac felt that Dulles had more misgivings about the project than he had ever expressed to the President, and that he had not done so out of loyalty to Bissell. As for Bissell, Mac simply said that he personally would not be able to accept Dick’s estimates of a situation like this again. Mac did not feel that the cancellation of the air strike had fundamentally changed the situation; it would not have altered the immense Castro advantage on the ground. His conclusion is that Castro is far better organized and more formidable than we had supposed. (For example, the insurgents appear to have run out of pilots, despite the months of training.)

All in all, a gloomy day. If this thing must fail, it is just as well that it fails quickly. But I cannot banish from my mind the picture of these brave men, pathetically underequipped, dying on Cuban beaches before Soviet tanks.’

6 August 1962
‘I must confess that the report yesterday of Marilyn Monroe’s death quite shocked and saddened (but did not surprise) me. I will never forget meeting her at the Arthur Krim party following the JFK birthday rally at Madison Square Garden in May. I cannot recall whether I wrote anything down at the time, but the image of this exquisite, beguiling and desperate girl will always stay with me. I do not think I have seen anyone so beautiful; I was enchanted by her manner and her wit, at once so masked, so ingenuous and so penetrating. But one felt a terrible unreality about her - as if talking to someone under water. Bobby and I engaged in mock competition for her; she was most agreeable to him and pleasant to me, but one never felt her to be wholly engaged. Indeed, she seemed most solicitous of her ex-father-in-law, Arthur Miller’s father, a baffled and taciturn man whom she introduced to the group and on whom she constantly cast a maternal eye. The only moment I felt I touched her was when I mentioned that I was a friend of Joe Rauh. This produced a warm and spontaneous burst of affection - but then she receded into her own glittering mist.

Late yesterday afternoon I went out to the Rauhs’ for a swim. Both Joe and Olie were saddened by the news. Olie talked about Marilyn as a guest, her fear of facing people, and the complicated stratagems she went through when she finally, for example, had to confront a press conference. After keeping the group waiting for two hours and a half, she examined herself in the mirror, saw the outline of her panties through her summer dress, removed them, put on white gloves, saying to Olie, “You don’t know these people; if they saw my hands, they would write that my nails were not polished enough,” and walked in agony downstairs. Later the CBS man said to Olie, “I have never seen anyone so nervous at an interview in my life.” ’

10 May 1974
‘We continue to make progress. I have never really doubted, since Watergate began to unravel, that Nixon would be removed or would resign before January 1977. This confidence was based essentially on a sense that Nixon was the greatest shit - probably the only shit - ever elected President of the United States, and that no disclosure about his greed and knavery would ever be the last. So, when he went on TV on 29 April and said, with apparent perfect confidence, that the release the next day of his expurgated version of some of the tapes would show “once and for all” that everything he had done with regard to Watergate was “just as I have described them to you from the very beginning,” I did not believe it for a moment.

One’s sense that he is now hopelessly immured in a dream world leads me to believe that he will not resign, at least without a deal. I am also more sure than ever that the Senate will convict and remove him. This is the most solemn vote most of those senators will ever cast, and then, if ever, they will vote their consciences. Moreover, none among them has any personal affection for or loyalty to Nixon, and those Republicans up for reelection know they will do far better if Gerald Ford is President.

I may well change this view, but Henry Kissinger, despite his work in the Middle East, seems to me one of the most disgusting figures in this whole business. Yesterday Dick Rovere, Martin Mayer and I were chatting at the long table in the Century about Kissinger and especially about his mania for secrecy and about the panic he evidently fell into when Dan Ellsberg handed over the Pentagon Papers. After a moment I said, rather loudly, “In my view Kissinger and Ellsberg deserve each other.” A short while later, as I left the table, I was hailed by someone sitting directly behind me. I need hardly say that it was Ellsberg. He gave no indication that he had heard my remark, though he could hardly have missed it, given the authoritative tone in which it was uttered. We talked a few minutes. He seemed more egomaniacal than ever and affected to think that further and harsher prosecutions lay in store for him.

The movement toward impeachment moves slowly ahead. I encountered in my two Washington trips a certain pessimism as to whether anything will happen. Peter Lisagor thinks that Congress is such a cowardly body that Nixon will survive. Rowland Evans also thinks that Nixon will pull through. I continue not to think so.’

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Let there be peace

‘Oh, if only there could be peace. If only Finland could have peace, at least, and we could help them rebuild their ravaged land. I heard the news just now. No confirmed reports are available yet on the outcome of the negotiations. We’ll hear at 11 o’clock this evening, if any new reports have come in. God, let there be peace. A good peace, one that Finland can accept and at least keep its right of self-determination. Let there be peace!’ This is from the wartime diaries of Astrid Lindgren, author of one world’s most famous children’s books - Pippi Longstocking. Later this month, the diaries, only recently discovered, are being published for the first time in paperback by Pushkin Press.

Astrid Ericsson was born on 14 November 1907, to a farmer and his wife, in Näs, near Vimmerby in southern Sweden. On finishing school, she joined the staff of a local newspaper, where she had a relationship with the editor and became pregnant. She moved to Stockholm where she gave birth to her illegitimate son, Lars, who was placed in foster care with a family in Copenhagen. Astrid began training as a stenographer, and, eventually, when she had sufficient income she took care of Lars herself. In 1931, she married her employer Sture Lindgren, and three years later, gave birth to a daughter, Karin. By this time she was writing stories for a magazine Countryside Christmas. In 1945, though, she won first prize in a competition by a new publishing house, Rabén & Sjögren, with her story Pippi Långstrump (Pippi Longstocking) - which would become one of the best loved children’s story across the world.

Lindgren continued to write many stories, but from 1946 to 1970 she was also editor-in-chief of Rabén & Sjögren. In time, she became a public figure, campaigning for environmental causes as well as for the rights of children and animals. In the mid-1970s, by the simple act of writing and publishing a fairy tale, she successfully challenged the government over a tax law. On her 90th birthday, in 1997, she was pronounced International Swede of the Year. Soon after, she suffered a stroke; she died in 2002. For further biographical information see the official Astrid Lingren website, Wikipedia, or a Guardian obituary.

In 2016, Pushkin Press published for the first time in English a collection of Lindgren’s diary entries (as translated by Sarah Death) written during the Second World War. The diaries had only recently been discovered, in a wicker laundry basket. Pushkin Press is now (on 26 October) issuing a paperback version: A World Gone Mad: The Wartime Diaries of Astrid Lindgren, author of Pippi Longstocking. According to the publisher, Lindgren emerges, in these diary entries, ‘as a morally courageous critic of violence and war, as well as a deeply sensitive and astute observer of world affairs.’ Although there are charming snapshots of domestic life, Lindgren the diarist is always preoccupied with news of the war, reporting it faithfully, and often adding her own thoughtful opinions or emotional responses. Here are several extracts (with thanks to Pushkin Press).

9 February 1940
‘What a world, what an existence! Reading the papers is a depressing pastime. Bombs and machine guns hounding women and children in Finland, the oceans full of mines and submarines, neutral sailors dying, or at best being rescued in the nick of time after days and nights of privation on some wretched raft, the behind-the-scenes tragedy of the Polish population (nobody’s supposed to know what’s happening, but some things get into the papers anyway), special sections on the trams for ‘the German master race’, the Poles not allowed out after 8 in the evening, and so on. The Germans talk about their ‘harsh but just treatment’ of the Poles - so then we know. What hatred it will generate! In the end the world will be so full of hate that it chokes us.

I think it’s God’s punishment being visited on the world. And to crown it all, we are having a winter more bitter than any we can remember. Ice has made communications by sea even more difficult and there’s a serious coal shortage. It’s awfully cold in our flat, but we’re getting used to it. We’ve almost abandoned the idea of fresh air and airing the place out, though we used to sleep with the window open all year round. The fuel situation in Denmark is even worse than here, and their houses aren’t as well built, either. Meanwhile, I’ve bought a fur coat - even though doomsday is likely to arrive before I’ve had time to wear it out.’

12 March 1940
‘Perhaps this is the very day when they’re deciding in Moscow whether there will be peace. Through Swedish mediation, a peace conference has taken place, even though the war is raging on. Ryti, Paasikivi and two others are there. Nobody knows anything yet about the terms on which Russia will make peace, and after all, Finland isn’t in a position that obliges her to agree to unreasonable demands. In actual fact, any terms are ‘unreasonable’, because why should Russia get a single scrap of Finland’s soil?

The Western powers don’t want peace between Russia and Finland at all. They like the idea of Russia being kept busy, so it can’t deliver anything to Germany. They are offering Finland all the help the country wants - but first they have to receive a request for help, and there hasn’t been one. This direct request has to come first, otherwise they can’t just march straight through Norway and Sweden. And that’s what they’d most like to do! So Sweden has been roundly scolded, particularly in the French press, which claims we have put pressure on Finland to persuade it to make peace. The Swedish government vehemently denies this; we only conveyed the peace offer from Russia. The Western powers think Germany has made us try to broker peace. But in fact Germany has probably been on at Russia to persuade them to make peace. Because a peace agreement seems to suit Germany too darned well and the Western powers too darned badly.

A little Finnish boy was supposed to come to us by plane from Åbo [Turku] today, but we’ve heard nothing. Maybe he’ll come tonight.

We’ve been entirely without hot water for over a week now.

Oh, if only there could be peace. If only Finland could have peace, at least, and we could help them rebuild their ravaged land.

I heard the news just now. No confirmed reports are available yet on the outcome of the negotiations. We’ll hear at 11 o’clock this evening, if any new reports have come in. God, let there be peace. A good peace, one that Finland can accept and at least keep its right of self-determination. Let there be peace!


4 April 1944
‘On this day I have been married for 13 years. The beautiful bride is stuck in bed, however, which gets pretty boring in the long run. I like it in the mornings when they bring me tea and white bread with smoked ham in bed and I get the bed made for me and the place nicely tidied around me, but I loathe it at night, when I have to have some kind of hot compress on my foot and it itches like mad and Sture’s asleep but I can’t get off to sleep myself. I’m reading Maugham’s Of Human Bondage and working on Pippi Longstocking.

It doesn’t look as though there’ll be peace in Finland. It’s time for the children's programme on the radio, so I can’t write any more for now.

It’s possible that this diary contains a disproportionate amount about the Germans’ rampages, because Dagens Nyheter is our daily paper and that’s more anti-German than any other rag and never misses a chance of highlighting German atrocities. It's beyond all doubt, however, that such atrocities do actually happen. Even so, it says at the end of this cutting about Poland that the Poles ‘would prefer the German regime’ to the Russian ‘if there were no other choice’. That's probably also the case in the Baltic states and other countries, but for that to appear in Dagens Nyheter must be a slip-up.’

Monday, October 9, 2017

A day of anguish

‘A day of anguish. At times it seemed as if it would be our last. At dawn we brought up water and then Luis and Willy went out immediately to scout for another possible descent to the canyon. They returned at once as the entire hill in front was traversed by a road and a peasant on horseback was riding on it. At 10 a group of 46 soldiers with their knapsacks passed by, taking ages to get out of sight. At 1200 another group, this time of 77 men, passed by. At this moment a shot was heard. The soldiers immediately took their positions.’ This is from the diary of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, the great Latin American revolutionary hero. Having been a key figure in the Cuban revolution and then in Fidel Castro’s communist state government, he left Cuba wanting to take up arms again for the revolutionary cause elsewhere, first in the Congo, and then in Bolivia where 10 days after the above diary entry, and half a century ago today, he was executed by Bolivian forces.

Guevara was born into a middle-class family in Rosario, Argentina, in 1928. From 1948, he studied medicine at the University of Buenos Aires but undertook two substantial and formative journeys during his undergraduate years: a solo trip through northern Argentina on a motorised bicycle, and the more famous trek through the rest of South America with his older friend Alberto Granado on a Norton motorbike. Granado remained in Venezuela but Che returned to Buenos Aires to finish his medical degree, which he did in 1953. By then, he had become determined to do something about the poverty and poor conditions he had witnessed across the continent. He went first to Bolivia with a friend, but soon ended up in Guatemala, where he saw an opportunity to battle against capitalist exploitation. He joined the pro-communist regime until it was overthrown; he then fled to Mexico, where he met Fidel Castro. He joined Castro’s revolutionary group and began training for an invasion of Cuba.

Che served as Castro’s chief lieutenant soon after the invasion of Cuba in 1956, playing a prominent role in the two-year guerrilla war. With the fall of the dictator, Fulgencio Batista, Guevara served in many key roles for the government, guiding Cuba towards alignment with the Soviet Union, instituting agrarian land reform, helping improve literacy, becoming president of the national bank, and acting as a diplomatic representative abroad for Cuban socialism. In the first half of the 1960s, he served as Cuba’s minister for industry. He was married twice, to Hilda Gadea in 1955, and to Aleida March in 1959, with one child by Hilda and four by Aleida. In 1965, Che left Cuba, first to foment (unsuccessfully) revolution in the Congo, and then in Bolivia where he was captured by the Bolivian army and executed on 9 October 1967.

Wikipedia offers this assessment of the man: ‘Guevara remains both a revered and reviled historical figure, polarized in the collective imagination in a multitude of biographies, memoirs, essays, documentaries, songs and films. As a result of his perceived martyrdom, poetic invocations for class struggle and desire to create the consciousness of a “new man” driven by moral rather than material incentives, Guevara has evolved into a quintessential icon of various leftist movements. Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century, while an Alberto Korda photograph of him [above], titled Guerrillero Heroico, was cited by the Maryland Institute College of Art as “the most famous photograph in the world” ’ Further information is also available at NSA archives, companero che, and World Affairs.

As well as several political books, Guevara also left behind diaries. One, about his youthful journey by motorcycle, has been turned into a famous book and film - The Motorcycle Diaries. But there are others less well known - The African Dream: The Diaries of the Revolutionary War in Congo; diaries that Che kept during the Cuban guerrilla war; and the Bolivian diaries first published in 1968 - The Complete Bolivian Diaries of Ché Guevara as edited by Daniel James. This latter was reissued by Cooper Square Press in 2000 with an introduction by Henry Butterfield Ryan.

Ryan, indeed, provides a fascinating insight into how, in the 1960s, the Bolivian diaries themselves ‘entered the tumultuous world of revolution, counter-revolution, and espionage’. And he has this to say about the contents: ‘Shortly after the Bolivian diaries became public, Guevara’s supporters began to speak of them as works that threatened “imperialism,” calls to revolution. They are far from that. They are the very frank and personal journals of a man trying desperately, and against great odds, to do something that proved impossible. He records all the irritation, pain, and disappointment of his mission. There are no heroic phrases, no ringing cries to rush to the barricades. The diaries comprise, whatever else, a poignant story, courageous but sad; they chronicle the increasing hopelessness of Guevara’s undertaking, and end only on the day before the inevitable disaster, which one can foretell almost with certainty by the middle of the written entries.’

The following extracts from the Bolivian diary have all been taken from the 2000 edition. (See also Che’s last days about the Bolivian government’s decision in 2008 to publish a facsimile edition of the Bolivian diaries.)

23 February 1967
‘A black day for me; I made it by sheer guts, for I am very exhausted. Marcos, Braulio, and Tuma left in the morning to prepare the path while we waited in the camp. There we deciphered a new message announcing that mine had been received at the French letterdrop. At 12:00 a.m. we left under a sun that melted the stones and shortly thereafter I had a fainting spell as we reached the top of the highest hill; from then on I walked by forcing myself. The highest point of that area has an altitude of 1,420 meters and overlooks a vast area including the Rio Grande, the mouth of the Nacahuasu, and part of the Rosita. The topography is different from that which is marked on the map. From a clear dividing line it descends abruptly to what looks like a wooded plateau 8 to 10 kilometers wide, at the end of which flows the Rosita; then there rises another ridge with altitudes equivalent to those of this chain. We decided to go down through a practical but very steep path in order to follow a stream which leads to the Rio Grande and from there to the Rosita. Contrary to what the map indicates, there appear to be no houses along the banks. We camped at 900 meters after a hellish journey, without water, and the night falling upon us. Yesterday morning I heard Marcos cursing at a comrade and today at another one. I will have to talk to him.’

26 June 1967
‘A black day for me. It seemed as though everything was going along quietly and peacefully and I had sent 5 men to relieve those in the ambush on the road to Florida, when shots were heard. We went quickly on our horses, and came upon a strange spectacle. In the midst of an intense silence, in the hot sun were the bodies of 4 soldiers lying on the sand of the river bank. We couldn’t find the weapons as we didn’t know the enemy’s position. It was 1700 hours and we waited for nightfall to effect the rescue. Miguel sent word that he could hear sporadic firing on his left. It was Antonio and Pacho, but I gave the order not to shoot without being sure. Immediately, one could hear shots that seemed to come from both sides, and I gave the order to retreat as we could lose under those conditions. The retreat was delayed and news arrived that Pombo had been wounded in one leg and Tuma in the stomach. We took them quickly to the house to operate on them with the instruments that we had there. Pombo’s wound was superficial and he only had a headache and was still mobile; but Tuma’s wound had destroyed his liver and punctured his intestines, and he died during the operation. With his death I lost an irreplaceable truly loyal comrade of many years standing, and I miss him as I would a son. He had asked that his watch be given to me, but while I was still attending him the others gave it to Arturo. He agreed that it be sent to Tuma’s son, whom Tuma had never seen, as I had done with the watches of the other two comrades who had been killed earlier. We loaded the body on one of the animals and took it some distance away for burial.

We took two new prisoners: a carabinero lieutenant, and a carabinero. We gave them a lecture and we let them go in just their undershorts. Because of a misinterpretation of my orders, they were stripped of everything they had. We came out of it with 9 horses.’

10 July 1967
‘We left late because we lost a horse which turned up later. We went over the highest altitude, 1900 meters, via a route that was rarely used. At 1500 hours we reached an abandoned house where we decided to spend the night, but a disagreeable surprise awaited us, for the path ended right there. Some abandoned footpaths were explored, but they also led nowhere. Some huts which might make up the village of Filo can be seen in front of us.

The radio announced a skirmish with guerrillas in the El Dorado area, which is not shown on the map but it is located between Samaipata and Rio Grande; the Army reported that one of its members was wounded, and attributed two deaths to our force.

On the other hand, the statements made by Debray and El Pelado were not good; above all they should not have admitted the existence of a plot to form an intercontinental guerrilla group.’

28 September 1967
‘A day of anguish. At times it seemed as if it would be our last. At dawn we brought up water and then Luis and Willy went out immediately to scout for another possible descent to the canyon. They returned at once as the entire hill in front was traversed by a road and a peasant on horseback was riding on it. At 10 a group of 46 soldiers with their knapsacks passed by, taking ages to get out of sight. At 1200 another group, this time of 77 men, passed by. At this moment a shot was heard. The soldiers immediately took their positions. The officer ordered them to go down to the ravine which seemed to be ours. Anyway [illegible word]; they communicated by radio and seemed satisfied, and continued their march. Our refuge has no defense against an attack from the height, and the possibilities of escape are remote if they discover us. Later a soldier who had been delayed passed by with a tired dog he had to pull along. Later still, a peasant guiding another straggling soldier went by. In a short time the peasant returned and nothing finally happened. But the fear when the shot was heard was really serious.

The soldiers all passed with knapsacks, which gives the impression that they are retreating, and we saw no fires in the little house that night, nor did we hear the gunfire with which soldiers usually welcome the evening. Tomorrow we will scout the whole day, all over the ranch. A light fell on us, but I do not think it was sufficient to erase our tracks.

The radio reported that Coco has been identified and gave some confused news about Julio; Miguel was confused with Antonio, whose duties in Manila were mentioned. At first they reported my death, then later denied it.’

The Diary Junction

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Massacre in Ecuador

The American missionary Jim Elliot, massacred along with four colleagues by members of a remote tribe in the Ecuadorian jumble, was born 90 years ago today. He was only 28, had recently married and had one daughter, yet his religious fervour lived on in his wife, who eventually befriended and went to live with the same indigenous tribe. Many years later, she published her husband’s diary, which contained entries right up until ten days before his death.

Elliot was born in Portland, Oregon, on 8 October 1927 to a Plymouth Brethren preacher and his wife. While at high school, he developed a skill at public speaking, alongside other interests, such as in the school newspaper, acting and wrestling. In 1945, he entered Wheaton College, Illinois, a Christian residential arts college, where he nurtured an ambition to become a missionary. He graduated in 1949 with a degree in Greek, and returned to Portland. The following year, he moved to Oklahoma to attend the Summer Institute of Linguistics where he learned how to study unwritten languages. There he met a former missionary to the Quechua people, who told him about a group of Ecuadorian indigenous people - the Huaorani - who were considered violent and dangerous to outsiders.

In early 1952, Elliot travelled with a missionary colleague, Peter Fleming, to Quito, with the aim of evangelising to the Quechua Indians. While at Wheaton, he had begun a friendship with a fellow student, Elisabeth Howard. She followed him out to Quito, where they married in 1953, and lived in Shandia, in the rainforest of eastern Ecuador. They had one daughter in 1955. While working with the Quechua, Elliot was also preparing to reach the Huaorani - a project he and four other missionaries called Operation Auca (Auca being another, somewhat pejorative, name for the indigenous tribe).

In the second half of 1955, the missionaries began making contact by dropping gifts from their plane. In early January 1956, they landed on a sandbar in the Curaray River and established a camp. A few days later, the five missionaries were speared to death. Elisabeth continued missionary work with the Quechua, and then, in fact, went to live among the Huaorani (with her three year old daughter). Later, she published two books about her husband, and returned to the US in 1968, where she went on to write many other Christian books. Further information on Jim Elliot can be found at Wikipedia and Inspirational Christians. A detailed account of Operation Auca can also be found at Wikipedia.

In 1978, Elisabeth - by then married for a third time - edited and published The Journals of Jim Elliot (published by Fleming H. Revell in the US). They have stayed in print ever since. According to the publisher: ‘Jim Elliot was an intelligent thinker and strong writer in these personal, yet universal, musings about faith, work, and love. The Journals of Jim Elliot is a wonderful account of the life of a man who yearns to know God's plan for his life, details his fascinating missions work, and loves Elisabeth first as a single man, then as a happily married one. The Journals of Jim Elliot will intrigue fans of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, readers interested in missions, and young people struggling to find God’s plan for their lives.’ The journals begin when Elliot is still at Wheaton College and continue until just a few days before his death. Here are several extracts (form the UK edition published by Pickering & Inglish), including Elliot’s very last entry (all brackets, square and round, are as found in the book).

6 July 1950
‘Spent the evening with Dave Cooper who described the Quichua uplands as the neediest, roughest place in Ecuador. He has worked with Tidmarsh on the Shandia station, is burdened for the yet unreached Ecuadorians, Aucas, Cofanes, Sionas. Gave us sketch map of the area describing need.’

7 August 1950
‘Received word today from brothers Gill and Doane [leading brethren of the Portland assembly] that I should feel the assembly is behind me 100 percent in my going to Ecuador. God has set His seal.’

7 May 1952
‘Near full moon found us above Arias’s [an Ecuadorian family with whom I lodged], under a sparse stand of eucalyptus, after heavy rain. Sky was broken with clouds, and flashed stars, but the horizon was sufficiently clear to see Cayambe, Antisana, and Cotopaxi by moonlight. No night like it so far here in Ecuador. Someone tried to scare us off with gunfire, not knowing what we were doing there - finally came out in a troop with rifles, led by a senora who queried angrily, “Que pasa?” [What's happening]. Explaining that we were “amadores, no mas,” [only lovers] we obtained our “desculpe” [pardon]. Laughable, really.

It was one of those “asked for” times with her, depending on weather conditions which God openly controlled for us. He seems so much “for us” (two) these days. I have not lost one nameable thing by putting her and our whole affair in the simplest way possible into His hands. There has been no careful analyzing, no planning, no worrying over details in the matter. I have simply recognized love in me, declared it to her and to Him and as frankly as I could, told Him I wanted His way in it. There has been no leading thus far to engagement, but the symptoms of a beautiful courtship prevail - not perhaps a routine, or “normal” one, but a good one nonetheless, and withal, a deep sense that it is God directed.’

14 February 1953
‘Just came in from Otavalo. Gwen was tired so left us with supper and dishes alone. I am waiting for Rob to come home (he has gone to some school affair) having just kissed Betty good night at the door of her room. She was sleepy tonight - went dozing off while I was reading in this diary and then in my arms and later in my lap. She surprises me sometimes as a lover - a gay ardency, a girlishness I see in her few other times. And oh, how glad I am she knows just how much of herself to give. I could still ask that she be more aggressive with my body, but from what I already know, she will in time do very acceptably. The other night, Tuesday, I believe, we had a lunch together at the bodega and afterward a long discussion about limits to engagement relations -  everything from touching her breasts to intercourse. And when I came home so I spoke, “A garden shut up is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed” (Song of Sol. 4:12). She is that until marriage, by her present attitudes. The following night at the bodega she told me that we would not lie down again, choosing a variant restriction I had suggested. We came home, and at the gate she cried - for not having had enough of me that day. We walked up to the fountain and wall above Guápalo and sat on the steps. Thursday we went to Tingo with McCullys and Emma, and in the evening she and I bought wine together. I know I cannot live without her now.

Pondering downtown Romans 1:1: “Set apart unto the gospel of his Son.” Paul was separated from a family (wife and “play loving”), a business, the church fellowship in Antioch, and who knows what else, for the progress of the Gospel. How far am I “separated unto the Gospel”?

31 December 1955
‘A month of temptation. Satan and the flesh have been on me hard. How God holds my soul in His life and permits one with such wretchedness to continue in His service I cannot tell. Oh, it has been hard . . . I have been very low inside me struggling and casting myself hourly on Christ for help. Marriage is divorce from the privacy a man loves, but there is some privacy nothing can share. It is the knowledge of a sinful heart.

These are the days of the New Year’s believers’ conference on the Sermon on the Mount. Yesterday I preached and was helped on “whoever looks on a woman . . .”!

“Let spirit conquer though the flesh conspire.” ’

Saturday, October 7, 2017

I have depassed myself

‘I’m already demode, depasse. I have depassed myself into a void,’ wrote R.D. Laing in his diary in the early 1970s. Born 90 years ago today, R. D. Laing was, for a time, one of the most famous psychiatrists in the world, but he eventually ran foul of the medical establishment, and his own life was dogged in family discord (he had 10 children by four women) and depression. Although an inveterate keeper of notebooks, only a few diary excerpts have been published - in a biography written by his son A. C. Laing.

Laing, an only child, was born in Glasgow on 7 October 1927. He did well at school and his parents enrolled him in Hutcheson’s Boys Grammar school. By the age of 15 he was already familiar with the writing of many European philosophers. He moved onto Glasgow University to study medicine, graduating in 1951. He was conscripted into the British Army, serving in its Netley psychiatric unit, before taking up a post at the Glasgow Royal Mental Hospital, where he became the youngest consultant in the country. There he met, and came under the influence of, the neurosurgeon Joe Schorstein and the psychiatrist David Henderson. He married Anne Hearne in 1952, and they had five children, before divorcing. He married Jutta Werner in 1974, and they had three children. Out of wedlock, he also fathered two children with two other women.

From 1956 until 1967, Laing work in London, at the Tavistock Institute, a centre for psychotherapy, latterly as the principal investigator for the schizophrenia and family research unit. During this time, he published the first of many influential books, The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness, in which he offered new and controversial ideas on the understanding and treatment of schizophrenia. In 1965, Laing, with others, set up the Philadelphia Association which launched a radical experiment at Kingsley Hall, London, to house and treat those seriously affected by schizophrenia without restraint or drug therapies. During its five year life, Kingsley Hall became notorious as a place where people could regress into infantile and uninhibited behaviour before, supposedly, resurfacing with a new and authentic sanity. Laing, himself, was experimenting with LSD, and is said to have taken it with Sean Connery in 1964 (before it was illegal). At this time, he was among the most famous therapists in the world.

In 1971, Laing and his family travelled to Sri Lanka to find out more about meditation from Buddhists, and to India where he learnt Sanskrit and met the guru Govinda Lama. Further books followed, The Politics of the Family (1971), The Facts of Life (1976), and The Voice of Experience (1982). In 1985, he published his autobiography, Wisdom, Madness and Folly, but, by this time, a tendency to alcoholism and depression was leading him into trouble with the medical establishment, and he gave up practising medicine. He died in 1989. Further information is available from the R. D. Laing Institute, an issue of Janus Head, Allan Beverage’s article in BJPsych Bulletin, the BBC, Wikipedia, or Adrian C. Laing’s article in The Guardian.

According to his son and biographer Adrian C. Laing, R. D. Laing was ‘an avid keeper of diaries, drafts of his books both published and unpublished, notes, scribbles, loose thoughts, recollections of dreams, jottings, correspondence, tape-recordings, transcripts of tape-recordings and press cuttings.’ As far as I can tell, none of the notebooks or diaries have been published in their own right. However, in the biography of his father - R. D. Laing: A Life (Peter Owen, 1994) - A. C. Laing does refer occasionally to the diaries, and quotes from them a few times. The following extracts (which include excerpts from his father’s diary) are taken from the 1997 paperback edition by HarperCollins.


‘The last entry in Ronnie’s diary that is in any way remotely concemed with ‘politics’ was made on 23 March 1970 under the heading ‘My Relation to Politics’. Here he admitted, to himself at least, that the political movement ‘is far more vast than I can comprehend and apart from its existence there is very little I can say about it’.


‘On 7 October 1967 Ronnie celebrated his fortieth birthday and wrote a rough entry in his diary marking “the transition from Icarus to Daedalus from Oedipus to Laius from enfant terrible to grand old man or everyman’s favourite uncle from disciple to Guru from Isaac to Abraham. From simply son to father to one of the elders who has failed. . . From Jesus to Joseph. From one of yesterdays [sic] young men of tomorrow to one of tomorrow’s old men of yesterday”.’


A few days after Ronnie s forty-fourth birthday on 7 October 1971, he recorded in a diary a visit to a wise man by the name of Mufti Jal al-Ud-din. The note Ronnie made of that encounter indicated what they discussed. Ronnie numbered the topics: “1. What is man’s chief end in life?; 2. What is the correct way to live?; 3. What is the method to rid oneself of the corruptions that defile the heart and weaken wisdom?” In answer to these questions, the wise man replied: “if you wish to help your fellow man there is no better way to do so than to give up the world, renounce everything and take up the robe and bowl”. This did not seem to provide Ronnie with a satisfactory answer. He wrote in his diary: “It would be a blessing were I to find the right man for me. Maybe there is not such a man, maybe I cannot recognize him.” ’

‘When Ronnie and his second family returned from India on 20 April 1972, much had taken place since their departure for Sri Lanka in March of the previous year. Ronnie had deliberately kept out of touch with events not just in London but the West as a whole. He had been reading a great deal but his interests were confined solely to books on Eastern theology and philosophy. He had a lot of catching up to do. Moreover, shortly after his return to London he experienced a serious collapse in his own self-confidence, prompting the following entry in his diary in May 1972: “I’ve got to keep my nerve - or lose it - everything is completely uncertain. I’ve lost my motivations and beliefs - there is nothing I want to do and I don’t want to do nothing. It’s really like starting a new life and I would be just as glad not to. I’m already demode, depasse [sic]. I have depassed myself into a void.” ’


‘One of most important events in Ronnie’s life in 1979 was the permanent replacement of his secretary by a woman from New Zealand - Marguerite Romayne-Kendon - for it was with Marguerite that Ronnie would spend the last few years of his life. The following year Ronnie saw many friends and other people he felt attached to pass away. He wrote in his diary on 3 August, “Sartre died two/three months ago, then Roland Barthes, yesterday Hugh Crawford. Peter Sellers and Ken Tynan.” The next month he added the name of Franco Basaglia. Before the year was out there were others to mention: David Mercer, Jesse Watkins (the sculptor who was the subject of ‘A Ten-Day Voyage’ in The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise), Steve McQueen, John Lennon. Of 1980 Ronnie wrote, “death has had a good harvest this year”.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The soul of this café

‘To give you the soul of this café, I must say that the immense porch of a mosque rests its six polygonal pillars in the very midst of the benches. The capitals are carved in a very strange Spanish baroque style. Five small domes lead to an adjoining high wall, which is pierced by a high narrow door in black wood where ivory and mother-of-pearl inlays shine in a complicated linear design.’ This is from a diary kept by Le Corbusier, born 130 years ago today, when still a young man, travelling through Europe, not yet an architect, but thirsty for knowledge, observing everything, and particularly interested in buildings.

Charles-Édouard Jeanneret was born on 6 October 1887, in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, son of a watch engraver and a piano teacher. He studied at the local art school which taught applied arts connected with watchmaking, but was encouraged by one teacher towards architecture, and he set about teaching himself. With two friends, he designed and built his first house in 1905. In the next few years, he travelled frequently in Europe meeting artists and architects, and working for some of them (including a Paris studio which was pioneering the use of reinforced concrete for domestic residences). In 1912, he built an ambitious house for his parents. This impressed a wealthy watch manufacturer who then commissioned Jeanneret to design an imposing villa.

During the war, Jeanneret taught at his old art school, and began to theorise on the use of prefabricated housing. In 1917, he moved to Paris to work as an architect on concrete structures, but was soon devoting his time to painting. With Amédée Ozenfant, he published an anti-Cubism manifesto, and established a new artistic movement - purism. It was in the first issue of the movement’s journal - L’Esprit Nouveau - that Jeanneret took on the pseudonym Le Corbusier. In 1923, he published a collection of his essays for the journal in Vers une Architecture (Toward a New Architecture), and by the mid-1920s he was actively involved in seeing his new ideas turn to reality. With his cousin Pierre and with Ozenfant, he built the Esprit Nouveau Pavilion for the 1925 Paris International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts (from which the name Art Deco originated); and in 1927 he was commissioned by a Bordeaux industrialist to build a complex of worker houses, which he realised using his ideas for modular units.

In 1928, Le Corbusier helped found the International Congresses of Modern Architecture. In 1930 he took French citizenship, and he married Yvonne Gallis. As his international reputation grew, so he travelled widely, lecturing and winning contracts not only in France, but in Brazil and Russia. During the Second World War and the German occupation of France, Le Corbusier did his best to promote architectural projects, without any success, but his first public commission in ten years came after the war with Cité radieuse, a rehabilitation project in Marseilles. This was finished in 1952, the same year he was made a Commander of the Legion d’Honneur.

Among his most famous works are Ozenfant House (1922), Villa Jeanneret (1925), Villa Savoye (1928) and the Swiss Dormitory at the Cité Universitaire (1931-32) all in Paris; the Ministry of Education and Health in Rio de Janeiro (1936), Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut, Ronchamp (1950-54), various buildings in Chandigarh, India (1952-59), the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo (1954-59), and the Carpenter Visual Art Centre, Harvard (1964). Le Corbusier died in 1965. Further information can be found at The Corbusier Foundation, The Art Story, Wikipedia, and

Although an inveterate keeper of notebooks with ideas and sketches, there is no obvious evidence that Le Corbusier was a diarist as such. However, as a young man, on one of his journeys through Europe, he did keep a journal, which subsequently has been referred to as a diary. On route, he sent each diary entry back to his home town to be published in a local newspaper. On his return, he considered preparing the diary for publication but the war intervened, and it was to be more than half a century before he revisited and edited the manuscript - just before his death in fact. This was published in its original French language, and not published in English until 1987, when The MIT Press brought out Journey to the East as translated by Ivan Žaknić with Nicole Pertuiset and edited by Žaknić. In 2007, MIT Press re-issued the book. The following extracts come from the original 1987 edition.

The introduction to the French edition (as translated) is worth reproducing.

‘In 1911 Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, a draftsman in the office of Peter Behrens in Berlin, decided with his friend, Auguste Klipstein, to undertake a journey whose destination was Constantinople. From May to October, with very little money, the two friends toured Bohemia, Serbia, Rumania, Bulgaria, and Turkey.

It was then that Charles-Édouard Jeanneret discovered architecture: a magnificent play of forms in light, a coherent system of the mind. During this journey from Dresden to Constantinople, and from Athens to Pompeii, Charles-Édouard Jeanneret kept a travel diary. In it he noted his impressions, and he also executed a great number of drawings which taught him to observe and to see. From these notes he extracted articles, some of which were to be published by La Feuille d’Avis of La Chaux-de-Fonds. Later he would reassemble and complete these manuscripts to form a book. The book, Le Voyage d’Orient, was to be published by Gaspard Valette of Mercure de France in 1914. However, the war prevented that publication, and the manuscript was stored among the archives of Le Corbusier. Fifty-four years after his journey, he decided at long last to publish the book that is a testimony to his wonderment and discoveries as a young man. In July 1965 he edited the manuscript and annotated it meticulously, relying on nothing more than his memory. Here then is Journey to the East, considered by Le Corbusier to be an important and revealing document on the most decisive year of his growth as an artist and as an architect.’

In fact, although there are passages which read like a diary, the whole seems to have been worked on, making it more of a memoir than a diary. Here is one extract (with a typical illustration by Corbusier).

‘A Café
I entered it by chance: I was fleeing anywhere to escape the Bazaar. Everything is cool and quiet, for age-old trees mask the sky. Huge gray, red, or white striped linens are suspended from their four corners to tree trunks, and their bellies sag to within a few meters of the ground. The foliage diffuses circles of white light that dance upon the grayish patterns of irregularly shaped paving stones. Luxurious little wicker cages in which two divans face each other and, where the coffee is prepared, form on one side an uninterrupted boundary. Turkish houses block the view threading its way into the narrowness of a winding street. To get there, I climbed an odd stone stairway and went through a pretty gate in a high wall. Numerous benches are strewn about, creating enclosures; carpets of red, black, and yellow stripes cover them. They are deep and have a back and armrests. Yet they are not used for sitting down. After taking off one’s shoes, one sits on one’s heels. In this way one assumes a very dignified position, very neat, and this does away with our own casual habit of slouching like young revelers. The coffee is served, as you know, in tiny cups, and the tea in pear-shaped glasses. Either one costs a sou, which permits refills.

A hundred Turks converse in low voices. The water gurgles in the narghiles, and the air turns blue from the smoke. We are in the land of exquisite tobaccos, and we make extravagant use of it. Only when it is out of control do we moderate it, but Auguste practically kills himself with it. Fezzes are mixed with turbans, and the long black robes with grays and blues. Here comes an old man dressed entirely in pink, which makes him look like a small child. The old people are always personable, gay, sharp-eyed, yet never helpless; prayer provides them with such health because of the exercise it requires. So these old men always smile and slip by like ferrets with some inseparable corpous under their arms.

Over my table bloom copious blue hydrangeas; elsewhere there are roses and carnations; only two steps away I can hear the singing of a little marble fountain in Turkish rococo. Cats strut about in quest of balls of yarn, and to give you the soul of this café, I must say that the immense porch of a mosque rests its six polygonal pillars in the very midst of the benches. The capitals are carved in a very strange Spanish baroque style. Five small domes lead to an adjoining high wall, which is pierced by a high narrow door in black wood where ivory and mother-of-pearl inlays shine in a complicated linear design. Bright-colored carpets spread to the rush mats beneath the domes. The muezzin has just climbed the minaret which can be seen through the foliage, and his strident call to prayer pours out, while the mats are covered by the faithful who prostrate themselves, rise, and worship Allah.

But here is a touching note characteristic of the lofty, poetic Turkish soul: among the tables are three mounds, each a few meters high and bordered by a stone wall with a fine iron railing; a lantern hung to some tree which had sprouted there burns every night to illuminate the tombstones whose worn inscriptions no doubt recall the virtues of brave men now resting between the roots of the great sycamore which rises like their soul to heaven. They must rest here among the living, so as to familiarize them with Sweet Death. All these good old men, so nice in their childlike robes of pink, blue, or white, will come every morning to greet them and to whisper in their beards: Yes, yes, soon, we are coming, we are coming. I rejoice! . . .

This place, the café of Mahmud Pasha and the little mosque with a minaret and one single large dome that rests on four bare walls, is not far from the feverish Bazaar. Auguste and I spent many evenings there.’

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A mania for gossip

‘I am very much struck with the mania for gossip which now rages in society here. There seems to be no other subject of conversation in the fine company of London. The only topics that afford interest are local ones. This arises, doubtless, from the fact that, diplomacy excepted, London society is entirely national; while that of Paris, being more absolutely cosmopolitan, leads to greater familiarity with subjects of general import, and the resources of conversation are there, consequently, much less limited.’ This is from the diary, very gossipy in itself, of one Thomas Raikes, a merchant banker and dandy, who was born 240 years ago today.

Born on 3 October 1777, Raikes was educated at Eton where he became acquainted with Beau Brummel, another dandy-to-be. He visited the Continent with a private tutor to study languages, and then joined his father’s banking firm, but liked the West End clubs better. He was an early member of the Carlton Club, and was nicknamed Apollo because he rose in the east (where his banking house was in the City) and set in the west (where the clubs were). In 1802, he married Sophia Maria, daughter of Nathaniel Bayly, a proprietor in Jamaica. They had one son and three daughters. He was often abroad - The Hague, Paris, Russia - and moved permanently to France in 1833 to escape financial troubles. He returned to London in 1841, spending the next few years there or in Paris, before taking a house at Brighton, where he died in 1848. There is very little further biographical information available online, at Wikipedia, the Regency Reader, or even at Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required).

Raikes is remembered today largely because of his diary, published (1856-1858) in four volumes by Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans: A Portion of the Journal kept by Thomas Raikes, Esq, from 1831 to 1847 comprising reminiscences of Social and Political Life in London and Paris during that period. All four volumes can freely read online at Internet Archive (vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3, vol. 4), and a long review can be found in The Gentlemen’s Magazine (1856). Here is selection of extracts from the diary.

24 February 1832
‘The news of the cholera being in London has been received abroad. According to the feelings of the different nations towards England, France, who wishes to court us, has ordered a quarantine in her ports of three days; Holland, who feels aggrieved by our conduct at the Conference, one of forty days. The fog so thick in London, that the illuminations for the Queen’s birthday were not visible.’

5 March 1832
‘A melancholy event indeed my poor friend Henry B. destroyed himself this morning in his room at Limmer’s Hotel, Conduit Street. Continued losses at play and other pecuniary embarrassments drove him to despair, and he cut his own throat, after shaving and dressing himself completely, while the breakfast was preparing by his servant. It was an infatuation of long standing; his father had twice paid his debts to a large amount, and they were unfortunately not on speaking terms for some time past. His poor mother was burnt to death not two months ago, and he never saw her in her last moments. This sad event, and the recollection of his intimate friend, who last year drowned himself in the Serpentine from the same dreadful cause, most probably accelerated this catastrophe. He left no letter to any one, merely the following words, scribbled on the back of a kind note which he had received the preceding evening from his friend the Duke of Dorset: “I cannot pray, and am determined to rush unbidden into the presence of my God!” What a sickening thought.’

21 March 1832
‘The general fast-day for the cholera. The political unions tried to excite a tumult in the city, but failed. Upon the whole, the day was observed with much decency; the churches were well attended, the shops shut up, and the streets even more quiet than on a Sunday.’

7 May 1832
‘This evening the House of Peers met in committee on the bill; and on the first division the Government were beat by a majority of thirty-five, to their own great astonishment. Lord Grey upon this immediately adjourned the House till Thursday. He said to Lord Wharncliffe, with evident vexation, on going out of the House, “You may now take the bill, and do what you please with it.” They must, it is supposed, now, either make peers, and not less than sixty, or resign.’

8 May 1832
‘Much anxiety and gossiping at all the clubs during the day, but nothing known. Lords Grey and Brougham went down to the King at Windsor, and returned in the evening. A cabinet council was held on their return, which broke up at twelve o’clock; but nothing transpired. One circumstance alone struck me and others forcibly. Sefton was at the opera in the highest spirits possible; he came at half-past one into the supper room at Crockford’s, having most probably driven in the interim to Downing Street, and I never saw such an alteration. His face was the picture of despair and vexation.’

9 May 1832
‘Sefton’s face was a true barometer. The King has refused to make the peers, and this morning the ministers have given in their resignations, which have been accepted. Still they attended at the levee, and the King appeared cheerful. Brookes’s Club is full of weeping and gnashing of teeth, so little was the party prepared for this sudden catastrophe. No one knows to whom the King will turn for his new advisers.’

10 October 1841
‘I called on the Darners, and found them established in the house in Tilney Street, left them by Mrs. Fitzherbert. The Colonel is made Comptroller of the Queen’s Household, with which he is much pleased. I find London very much altered, and in some respects, such as the buildings and parks, very considerably improved. There is much magnificence and luxury in the great houses, and much bustle in the streets; but not that amusing variety which greet you at every step in Paris. The change in society has also become very apparent within the last few years. It was called, and perhaps justly, in my time, dissipated; but the leaders were men of sense and talent, with polished manners, and generally high-minded feelings. The young men of the day seem without any prominent feature of character; indifferent instead of fastidious; careless in their manner to the women, and making it the fashion to afficher a heartless, selfish tone of feeling, such as would not be tolerated in French society, where the women certainly maintain a social influence that is not to be observed here. There is a great deal of beauty in the London drawing-rooms; but hardly any of those égards pour les convenances which, abroad, is the simplest and most natural form of high breeding, and which is shown in dress as well as in manner and in language. Steam has here dissolved the exclusive system, and seems to have substituted the love of wealth for both the love of amusement and of social distinction.’

21 October 1841
‘I am very much struck with the mania for gossip which now rages in society here. There seems to be no other subject of conversation in the fine company of London. The only topics that afford interest are local ones. This arises, doubtless, from the fact that, diplomacy excepted, London society is entirely national; while that of Paris, being more absolutely cosmopolitan, leads to greater familiarity with subjects of general import, and the resources of conversation are there, consequently, much less limited.’

25 January 1842
‘The day of the royal christening at Windsor. The Prince of Wales is named Albert Edward. All who have been there say that the scene was very magnificent, and the display of plate at the banquet superb. After the ceremony a silver embossed vessel, containing a whole hogshead of mulled claret, was introduced, and served in bucketfulls to the company, who drank the young Prince’s health. Very few ladies were invited.’

3 February 1842
‘The Queen opened the Parliament in person, attended by the King of Prussia, who sat on her right hand. The Speech, of course, only deals in general allusions to the future measures. The Address was moved by Lord March, eldest son of the Duke of Richmond, which shows that the agricultural interests are not angry. The Duke of Beaufort is come to town, and has received his Garter.’

4 February 1842
‘The debates last night seem to have given general satisfaction. Peel spoke in a very business-like manner, and expressed his determination to lose no time in bringing forward his measures, which were all ready and prepared. He has named Wednesday for the Corn Laws. There is no opposition to the Address.’

31 March 1842
‘I went with Yarmouth to view the property at Strawberry Hill, which is to be sold next month by order of the proprietor, Lord Waldegrave. Here are all the collections of Horace Waipole. There are a few good pictures, but all the rest are of little value. After dinner I went to the mock trials at the Garrick’s Head in Bow Street. There is one man who imitates Brougham very well as counsel, but the subject of debate was coarse, and the audience very vulgar.’

6 May 1842
‘As Lord and Lady Willoughby were coming to dinner yesterday, at General Freemantle’s, where I dined, their carriage drove over a child in Parliament Street, but fortunately without doing it much harm. A mob, of course, was drawn together to the spot; but all agreed that the coachman was by no means in fault, and Lord Willoughby got out of the carriage, and saw that every kind attention was paid to it. How different was the conduct of a French mob, three years ago, in Paris! The old Duchesse de Dodeauville, passing over the Pont Neuf in her carriage, the coachman by accident drove over a child and killed it on the spot. The mob assembled with frightful cries, and called out, “ A la riviere, a la riviere!” meaning to throw the old duchess over the bridge, which they would have executed if the Garde Municipale had not been attracted by the noise. Foiled in this attempt, they picked up the bleeding body of the child, threw it into the old lady’s lap, and made the coachman drive away with it.’

30 May 1842
‘As the Queen was returning home to the palace with Prince Albert this afternoon, descending Constitution Hill, a villain approached the open carriage and fired at her, but fortunately the pistol snapped in the pan. He was immediately secured. It is now known that the same individual made a similar attempt yesterday evening, which was hushed up. The Privy Council was instantly assembled for the examination of the culprit.’

18 June 1842
‘Francis, who fired at the Queen, has been tried at the Old Bailey, found guilty, and sentenced to death. It is hoped by all that the Queen will not interfere to save his life.’

21 June 1842
‘Francis has been overwhelmed with despair since his condemnation; he asserts that the pistol was not loaded with ball, that he had no wish to hurt the Queen, but that his sole object was to obtain notoriety, and be shut up for life like Oxford, where he would be sure of a relief from his poverty, and support at the public Expense.’

3 July 1842
‘This morning another attack was made on the Queen’s life as she was going in her carriage to the Chapel Royal. A humped-back boy presented a pistol at her, which only snapped in the pan; he was arrested by a boy named Docket, who gave him in charge to two police officers, who treated it as a joke, and the young rascal escaped. This may be imputed to the culpable laxity of our Government, who, on the preceding day, remitted the sentence of Francis, and condemned him only to transportation to a penal settlement in Tasmania. There seems to be a general apathy about everything in this country; there is no longer the same interest in politics, the struggle of parties seems finished; Peel is supposed to be in the ascendant, but the ultra Tories are incensed against him for his liberal tendencies. Though all around is a calm, it may be only that which portends a fatal storm.’

16 July 1842
‘I called on the Duke of Wellington this morning; he says the news from France has astounded all the diplomates in London, and gives the most fearful apprehensions for the future, as well for France as for all Europe.’

26 September 1843
‘Clanwilliam mentioned this evening an incident, which proves the wonderful celerity of the railroads. M. Isidore, the Queen’s coiffeur, who receives 200l. a year for dressing Her Majesty’s hair twice a day, had gone to London in the morning, meaning to return to Windsor in time for her toilet; but on arriving at the station he was just five minutes too late, and saw the train depart without him. His horror was great, as he knew that his want of punctuality would deprive him of his place, as no train would start for the next two hours. The only resource was to order a special train, for which he was obliged to pay 18l.; but the establishment feeling the importance of his business, ordered extra steam to be put on, and conveyed the anxious hairdresser eighteen miles in eighteen minutes, which extricated him from all his difficulties.’

9 October 1843
‘This morning, at breakfast, Arbuthnot gave the account of an extensive gang of swindlers in London, who had been lately detected by the Lord Mayor, and remarked how credulous and gullible the English tradesmen were, in becoming such easy dupes to their plots and rogueries.’

6 May 1844
‘What a difference there is between Paris and London. You may walk through the latter from Hyde Park Corner to Wapping, and with the exception of a few old churches, the Tower, and the Monument, you see nothing that calls to mind the ancient history of the country. Here every street is a memoria technica of some anecdote in former times. The one is all poetry, the other is all prose.’

27 May 1844
‘That arch-gambler Crockford is dead, and has left an immense fortune. He was originally a low fishmonger in Fish-street Hill, near the monument, then a leg at Newmarket and keeper of hells in London. He finally set up the club in St. James’s Street opposite to White’s with a hazard bank, by which he won all the disposable money of the men of fashion in London, which was supposed to be near two millions.’

The Diary Junction