Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Loud Bassoon

Fred Bason - not a name much remembered - was born 110 years ago today. He was proudly Cockney, and though unskilled and formally uneducated, he turned himself into a book dealer, writer and public speaker, counting Arnold Bennett and Noël Coward among his friends. Most notably, though, like another friend James Agate, he published several volumes of diaries. At the time, they were very popular, being full of Cockney humour and wisdom. His lighthearted approach to life shines out of every entry, such as one about how he started speaking at Rotary Club meetings, and another about how Agate tricked him over the title for his final volume of diaries - The Last Bassoon.

Bason was born in Walworth, London, on 29 August 1908 (though, at the time of writing, Wikipedia gives 1907 as his birth year) the only child of working class parents. He later claimed to have been born within hearing distance of Bow Bells (making him a true Cockney). He left school at 14, being apprenticed to a barber, and then a carpenter, before settling, from the age of 16, to a job as book runner. Over time, he learned to make money from buying and selling books, and, in particular, from autographs and books signed by their authors. Through his trade, he came to know many literary figures, not least Bennett, Coward and Agate. He also wrote articles for the press, appeared on radio programmes, and was a professional public speaker. He loved the theatre, but also boxing. He lived all his life in Walworth, in a rented council flat; he never married but had a close friendship with his housekeeper, Lizzie. He died in 1973. A little further biographical information is available at an archived Spectator review, and Paul Robinson’s book blog.

Bason is largely forgotten today, and he has little presence on the web, but for his published diaries. Bason met James Agate (a well-known diarist at the time but now also largely forgotten - see Not careless jottings) as a young man, and, on his advice, started writing a diary. In his lifetime, Bason published several volumes of these diaries; although long since out of print, second hand copies can be found readily enough online - see Abebooks for example. Here is Bason introducing his last volume - comically explaining, among other things, why he called it The Last Bassoon (but see the diary entries below for more on this). The spelling irregularities are as found in the published work.

‘By Way of Explanation. I have been faithfully keeping a day to day diary for more than thirty years. I was advised to do this by the late James Agate who said that if I would keep a diary that diary may some day keep me. The only thing its keepted me is HAPPY . . . and thats something. This is the fourth and the last portion of my diary and for that reason I have called it The Last Bassoon. The title comes from a part of The Ancient Mariner and Agate suggested that title when I thought Id had enough of being a diarist. Well, Ive had enough. Ive had a very long run for my so called literary career, and although I shall probably write other books I dont expect to ever compile another diary.

I will tell you why. Firstly, I am alone in this world. I have no wife, no sweetheart and I dont seem to have any relations left. I have no one but a very faithful landlady. I do have some friends (Thank God) and I wish to keep them. But the trouble with being a diarist is that one half of your friends want to be in your diaries and the other half fear to be in them! When you put them in they dont like what youve written about them, and if you leave them out they are annoyed! You are invited to a party and notice folks fear to speak to you, in case you put them into a diary. You have to get up and assure everyone on your honour that its a night off, and nothing will be used.

I wouldn’t knowingly annoy anyone. There is less than eight stone of me and I am not of the stuff that heroes are made from. I like peace and quiet and my friends are extremely precious to me. Beside as man cannot keep on diarying. James Agate, who in my opinion was the best of modem diarists, finished his Ego’s when he WAS very very feeble and in great pain. I want to finish my Cockney diaries when I am ever so well and have not a cloud in my sky.

Diary one was edited by Nicolas Bentley. It made two editions and sold over ten thousand copies. Diary two was edited by L. A. G. Strong. It had praise from 162 newspapers and did well. My third diary had an introduction and was edited by Michael Sadleir. And now, now I finish on a cressendo - Introduced and edited by Noel Coward! I believe that this book is the very first in all his career he has both introduced and edited, and he did it for NOTHING - for nothing but sheer goodwill. Its worth recording the fact that the first book I wrote had an introduction by W. Somerset Maugham (1931).

Yes, Ive had a very good run for my time and trouble and no regrets for ever becoming a writer of sorts. Oh, I am very conscious of my limitations, but this can be said for my writings: Ive never failed to amuse and surely that is really something in these days!

I know that Noel Coward got much amusement as he sorted out my bits and pieces. I hope that you will get pleasure from reading the finished work. I was never cut out to be a literary gent. This is my final bow as a Cockney diariest.’

And here are several extracts from the same volume.

18 October 1949
‘It seems to me very nearly impossible to access the pleasure other people get out of life or of their own way of living. I’ve known in my time some remarkably rich people and for the most part I didn’t find them uncommonly happy. Indeed, some seemed happy being miserable or got their pleasures by making others miserable. I have known poor people who’s eyes reflected the genuine happiness they got from life. They have a smile and a cheerfull word for everyone. You seldom see them angry or wearing frowns and yet you know they are extremely poor people. Money or the lack of it doesn’t seem to really trouble them.

I’ve been awfully hard up from time to time and when I’ve been hungry I’ve been bloody miserable and full of self pity and felt that the world owed me a slim living. But I know a chap in Hastings who I’m positive hasn’t £1 in all the world and wouldnt know where to borrow a pound. He has in a kit bag 4 tooth combs, 2 ordinary combs, several books, washing utensils and a pair of socks and 3 white collars. I am pretty positive he hasn’t got anything else - oh, except, maybe, 10s. or 12s. but he is happy. He will travel the whole of the South coast dish washing and sleeping rough. He will work for his food and maybe a few bob over. He’s 46. He has no home and no relations. He is ever so happy! I don’t believe a really rich man could be happier. I was proud and happy to meet him. We had a long chat. He is ever so wise. He says ‘possessions are a hindrance to adventure.’

On the other hand there is Lady T. out in Switzerland. Recently she complained to me about the rate of exchange, the price of The Saturday Book, the servant problem, the weather, the prospects of a 3rd War and the low class of visitors from England to Switzerland all in one letter! I know her to be quite rich. I know her now to be a miserable old bitch and I want no part of her. If you want to let off steam and have a bloody good moan surely you can do it on your own doorstep - or like me keep a journal and get it out of your system by writing it all down.

I’ve a strange idea that with all his fame and fortune Ivor Novello is not a particularly happy man. I’ve an even stronger idea that the astounding and remarkable Aldous Huxley is also none too happy. Right at the top of the tree - surely all their dreams have come true! When a man has one million pounds it seems he wants another to keep it company. I do not understand this at all. I never shall! I know a Welsh Novelist who rubs along on less than 150 pounds a year. I’ve never once seen him miserable or at cross purposes with the world. I believe its something within one, some part of one’s make up, some gland that causes happiness and it has nothing to do with fame or fortune.

I can’t in truth say that I am always happy. I keep seeking - and at times I don’t know what I seek. If I knew that though I’d be happier. And it ain’t religion either, for I’ve known some remarkably miserable Vicars! It ain’t sex. Many tarts are happy women!

Oh, it’s so strange - people I mean. ‘Nothing is stranger than people and their moods.’ Sax Rohmer wrote this (in red ink) to me years ago. The older I get the more I agree with his mouth-full. But I do believe that faith in a God does help. I often feel less restless after saying simple prayers.’

30 December 1953

‘As we draw towards the close of this year there are 2 items I must put into my Diary which seem to have no headings but mustn’t be left out. Both are pleasant. If I was to be asked who are my favourite actors I would say with no hesitation Alec Clunes Marius Goring and Noël Coward. Well, now, diary, Alec Clunes sent 2 nice circle seats to me so that I could take Lizzie to see him in Carrington V.C. at the Westminster Theatre. Then out of the blue (and I mean just that) Marius Goring sent a stall seat for me to see Anthony and Cleopatra in which he was the star. Its really astounding when you come to think of it. In 2 days 2 stars send tickets and I would bet that neither knew the other was sending (thats if Alec has ever met Marius). Its what can be called a million to one odds. And what did Mr Noel Coward do? Mr Coward don’t have to do anything except keep alive.

The second (or third) unexpected joy is an invitation to attend the Chelsea Arts Ball as a guest of the management! James Agate once said to me: ‘When you make the grade, Fred, your trouble will not be where to go but where not to go. You will be given free seats and invitations here and there. Look for the catch. There is usually a catch in free gifts and they are not really free.’

Well, dear James, I’m getting up in the grade. But I am sure that in the seats to shows for Marius and Alec and The Arts Ball invite from Loris Rey there is no catch at all. Therefore I feel I must include these happy items at the close of an eventfull happy (on the whole) year.’

29 August 1954
‘As one grows older, birthdays usually pass unnoticed, but today, my birthday has been exceptionally interesting. Anton Dolin allowed me to attend a full rehearsal of a new ballet called ‘Napoli’. During it a beautiful ballet star, Daphne Dale, spent a great deal of her spare time reading a book. I felt bound to enquire as to the title of same and was rather astounded when Anton found out for me that she was reading, with apparent keenness and enjoyment, Anna of the Five Towns by Arnold Bennett. How the author would have enjoyed knowing this and meeting Miss Dale. She is a real smasher - and so very talented as well. Mrs Frank Pettingell gave me a lovely pullover for a birthday gift. Mrs Morris in Birmingham sent me a Max Murrey thriller, and my dear Lizzie gave me an electric razor. I also had eight cards. All in all a very wonderful birthday.’

21 May 1958
‘Yesterday I had luncheon at the Hyde Park Hotel with Mr N. from Estoril in Portugal. It was a wonderfull luncheon and do you know I had for the first time ever GULLS eggs! They cost I think 5s. each. God! Talk about eating money. On my oath I couldn’t tell the difference between them and the eggs of Walworth at 3d. each. But my host said he liked them and they made a difference as he couldn’t get ’em in Portugal.

So there I had gulls eggs and smoked salmon and all things wonderfull, plus lovely conversation with one of my admirers, and although it was our first meeting, in 5 minutes it was as if we had known each other 5 years. We got on well.

And do you know what he did? Of course you dont. Well, after luncheon he took me in a taxi to Berkeley Square and from a florists named M. Stevens he bought 6 wonderful orchids in a glorious box (with gay pink ribbon) which must have cost at least a quid. And I had to take home orchids for Lizzie. She’d never seen an orchid in all her life. She almost cried with delight! It gave her enormous pleasure and Mr. N. knew it would in advance. I was sent home in the taxi and on instruction from Mr. N. the taxi man bought one of my books out of his tip. I had to sign my book to this taxi man and I was so tight that it was a job.

Well, Diary. I put it to you. I’ve been ill 3 weeks. I go out. I have a double sherry, then again a sherry; then a white wine, then a rich red wine, then kummel - whatever that is - plus Gulls Eggs!! My God, if Mr N. had’nt sent me home in a taxi I’d still be in Berkeley Sq listening to the Nightingale what aint there! All this happened yesterday but I will take days to get over it - and Lizzie has orchids! Oh, aint it lovely to have admirers who are thoughtfull friends as well! Yet in Walworth Ive never even had a kind word in 30 years concerning my books.’

5 June 1958
‘Yesterday at Brighton I gave my one hundredth talk to a Rotary Club. (The first talk to Rotarians I gave was in 1941 in Camberwell. My 99th was at Chertsey a week ago.) I was keen to keep this engagement although I felt very ill and Liz had to go with me in case I got some blackouts and fell down. For five years Id tried to get a Brighton talk, but each time something prevented me. I was not going to let myself down again, so I went to Brighton. You see, diary, when I started talking at Rotary clubs a speaker with much experience of these places told me that the three toughest, hardest audiences to hold in the Rotary World were at Wakefield, Leeds and Brighton, although I forgot to ask him why. As the years have passed I managed to hold Leeds and Wakefield and I intended to see how Brighton* would accept my exclusive brand of Cockney humour.

I need not have worried. They were quite alright and gave me a fair hearing and in 25 minutes talk I was able to get nine laughs out of them, so they were not so tough. Alas, I was only able to sell two of my books there although there were more than ninety men there and I did offer them for sale at far below cost price! Maybe most of them are still unable to read? I just wouldnt know. However, I sold a copy to The President of the club and to the Speakers secretary and they both promised to lend them around, so it was not quite a waste of time and genuine effort.

I recalled to Brighton Rotary how I got my first Rotarian talk. It was in 1941 and I’d made a name on the radio. There came one day to my home a big fat tough man. Would I talk at his Rotary Club? I didnt know what Rotary was, the word meant nothing to me. He explained and then I said that I would be willing to talk for ten minutes free. He said that would not do; it would have to be 25 minutes. And still he offered me no fee. He said he was not in the position to pay a fee so I wasnt very willing. It was war time and life was short.

Then he said that he noticed that I had two very bad teeth. He would take those two teeth out free and PAIN-less if I would talk 25 minutes. He was a dentist and would take me back to his surgery in his car immediately after the talk and in a jiffy they’d be out. He looked so strong and capable that I agreed.

Well, I gave the talk and then I went back to his place near Camberwell Green and that man gave me Bloody Hell. Never, never have I been hurt so much. He quite unnerved me for four days, and my gums were badly torn and still bleeding four days later, and took weeks to heal. When I got home I was white and shaking and bloody. I looked as if Id been in a massacre. Lizzie looked at me and then said ‘My God, Freddy, what did them there Rotarians do to you? They must be proper so and so’s to treat you like that, and you going there FREE just to make them laugh.’
* Brighton is becoming so respectable that the pigeons now fly upside down.

23 February 1960
Agate’s last laugh. Yesterday in a parcel of books I’d bought to aid a charity there was a copy of the Oxford Book of English Verse, edited by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (when I asked for his autograph more than 30 years ago I thought I was asking Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). Now, verse has never been much in my line, but something prompted me to look up and read for the first time in my life The Ancient Mariner by Coleridge. And I’ve had quite a SHOCK!

Dear old James Agate, so long after his departure to some land far from ours, has played a neat trick on me and must at this moment be having such a good laugh, for I have been landed with a title for my last book which was given to me long years ago by him! ‘When you want to end your diaries call the last one The Last Bassoon, my boy. It comes from the Ancient Mariner and will suit you down to the ground.’ Now, diary, I had a lifelong admiration for Mr Agate and always took what he said for gospel. Maybe to some slight degree I even patterned my own life something on his lines. I knew him long before he became famous, and fame at no time changed him for me. Bless his heart, he’s had a LAST LAUGH. He must have known that I would take what he said as correct, that The Last Bassoon was in this notable poem, but I find that all that’s mentioned is the loud bassoon!

I am stuck with a title and can do nothing whatever about it. Well, let him have his last laugh. I do not begrudge it him. He was a kindly old man with his own brand of humour, and this is probally an extreemly good sample of it!

Have I ever been the loud Bassoon? On my oath I don’t think so. I’ve mostly walked away from the limelight. I know it has been too much I and not enough Thou, but no one but Lizzie would share my life, and without relations it just had to be I, or spend my life in some humdrum manner. And that I didn’t want to do, for in my heart I longed to become another Samuel Pepys. Stanley Rubinstein said several times that the mantel of James Agate had most certainly fallen on me. Well, from under its covering I can hear at this moment a chuckle; it’s Jimmy saying, ‘I had you, my boy ... I had you. You know I’m a kidder.’ Perhaps his kindly interest is watching over me, and The Last Bassoon is a better title. We shall see, as the years roll on.’

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Rushing through the water

‘Still the strong wind and we expect to sight the ‘Farallones’ lighthouse this afternoon. It is so exciting rushing through the water, when every hour brings us nearer our destination. 2 pm, two sails in sight, and land reported from aloft, it is the lighthouse!’ This is Maud Berridge, a Victorian lady, whose diaries of life on board her husband’s clipper sailing to and from Australia, have just been published by Bloomsbury. The vast majority of historical maritime diaries extant today were written by captains or their assistants, so it is refreshing to see life on board from the female perspective for a change. According to Bloomsbury, Maud is ‘an open-minded and engaging companion’, and ‘her resilience, humour and delight in new experiences shines through her writing.’ The Daily Mail judges the diary with a tad more romanticism, seeing Maud’s ‘steadfast and unselfpitying intrepidness’ as ‘an inspiration for all who are willing to go to the ends of the Earth for the one they love’.

Maud Berridge was born in Shrewsbury, the county town of Shropshire near the Welsh border, in 1845, into a well-connected family (her mother being a goddaughter of the prime minister Robert Peel). The early 1850s saw her living with her mother in Warwick, this was after her father and two brothers had left to seek their fortunes in Australia. Maud married Henry Berridge, a master mariner, in 1869, who was employed by Greens Blackwall Line. Over 20 years he captained several three-masted clippers, the Walmer Castle, Highflier and Superb, often on voyages to Melbourne. On several occasions, Maud accompanied him. The first time was only a few months after their marriage, but the second was not until 10 years later, when their two sons were also on board. The last trip was probably in 1886-1887. Henry died soon after, in 1991, and Maud survived him for 16 years, living in London. She died in 1907.

During some of Maud’s voyages she kept a diary. Two of these have survived and were deposited at the National Maritime Museum by Maud’s son in 1948: a fragment from the 1880-1881 voyage, and a full account of the 1883-1884 voyage. Maud’s great-granddaughter, Sally Berridge, has edited the two diaries and used them as the core material in a book published earlier this year by Bloomsbury: The Epic Voyages of Maud Berridge: The seafaring diaries of a Victorian lady. Although the book feels like a personal project (it includes a letter Maud has composed for her long-gone relative), it is also very well researched with chapters on 19th century sailing ships, Maud’s other voyages (i.e. the ones for which there is no extant diary) and several appendices. There is also a generous collection of photographs and a few of Maud’s own illustrations.

The Epic Voyages of Maud Berridge can be previewed at Googlebooks, and Sally Berridge herself has written an article about it for The Sydney Morning Herald (with diary extracts). Elsewhere, a review can be read at the Daily Mail website. It concludes with this: ‘[Maud Berridge’s] steadfast and unselfpitying intrepidness remains an inspiration for all who are willing to go to the ends of the Earth for the one they love.’

With thanks to Bloomsbury, here are three extracts from the diaries.

15 February 1883
‘We weighed anchor at about 8 o’clock and proceeded on tow as far as Deal, which we reached at about 3 in the afternoon. The weather still very boisterous, and the tide and wind being against us, we anchored until tomorrow. The first Pilot left us today, taking an immense budget of letters. I am writing in the Saloon at 9 pm. The lamps are lighted and the passengers are nearly all seated round the table with books, work or games. I have just played backgammon with a young fellow who told me he was going to New South Wales to learn sheep farming. The gentleman rejoices in very red hair and moustache, and he has already been christened ‘The Golden Pheasant’. The dwarf has received the name of ‘General’. All jokes at his expense he takes most good-humouredly and joins in the laugh.’

2 April 1883
‘As the ship is steadier and the weather fine, there are preparations going on for theatricals to come tomorrow evening. Bombastes Furioso has been rehearsed for a week or two by four of the gentlemen. All morning I have been at work on a muslin cap for ‘Dastafenia’, making some braids of flax to represent hair and flowing curls. With the aid of a little rouge, my cotton dressing gown, an apron, mittens etc Mr Parkin was a very good ‘get up’.

It is wonderful the resources one has to fly to on board ship for fancy dress. The king’s crown was tin, decorated with little figures, a crimson shirt, white ducks, sea boots turned over with brown paper, and a ladies fur-lined cloak turned inside out made quite a regal-looking personage. The Prime Minister had a wig with a queue, knee breeches, low shoes with large pasteboard buckles. The coat trimmed with ruffles at neck and waist, also an imitation gold lace made out of rope, the effect of which was admirable. I made a bouquet of artificial flowers for a man to give a lady after the singing of ‘For ever and for ever’, which we had a strong suspicion was a burlesque on the young lady who practices [sic] so assiduously. We all enjoyed the play, which went off without a hitch, and was only too short. Lat 17º 35’ Long 29º 45’ Distance 199.’

2 October 1883
‘Still the strong wind and we expect to sight the ‘Farallones’ lighthouse this afternoon. It is so exciting rushing through the water, when every hour brings us nearer our destination. 2 pm, two sails in sight, and land reported from aloft, it is the lighthouse! 2.30 the lighthouse is distinctly visible, getting nearer every moment. A range of forbidding-looking rocks with the lighthouse perched on the highest, 350 feet high.

The Pilot cutter sighted about 3.30. The Pilot was watched with the greatest anxiety and curiosity. A square-built, fresh-coloured man with wide-awake hat, goatee beard and square-toed boots, he has not a superfluous word for anyone, while we were brimful of excitement and would like to ask a hundred questions!

Our voyage to ’Frisco is virtually at an end, we are entering the ‘Golden Gate’ after nightfall, a great disappointment, but I must begin a new book with our introduction to California!’

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Guilty of murder

‘I was at my post by 8 a.m. Two men have died, one after a trepanning operation, the other when he was being carried to the operating-table. It has been an unhappy day for me, because I have been through a very trying experience. Perhaps, by writing down all the facts clearly, my mind may be eased of some of its guilt. ‘Guilt’ is a strong word to use, but I was told during the afternoon by Ivan Ivanovich, our head dispenser, that I could consider myself “guilty of murder”.’ This is from the ‘compelling’ diary of Florence Farmborough, a young British nurse who worked for the Russian Red Cross during the First World War, and who died 40 years ago today.

Farmborough was born in 1887 in Buckinghamshire, the fourth child of a family of six, and named after Florence Nightingale, a friend of the family. In 1908, she went to Kiev as a child’s companion and teacher. And then, two years later, she moved to Moscow to take another position as English tutor to the daughters of a heart surgeon. During the First World War, she trained as a nurse at a hospital established by Princess Golitsin in Moscow. In early 1915, she joined a Russian mobile medical unit as a surgical nurse. Her unit was usually very close to the action on the Eastern Front, and often confronted daily with hundreds of wounded.

After returning to Britain in 1918, Farmborough was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. In 1926, she moved to Valencia, Spain, where she lectured in English, and then to Salamanca. She was a supporter of General Franco during the Spanish Civil War, and made radio propaganda broadcasts to English speaking-countries. Her book, Life and People of Spain, was published in 1938. She later returned to England and worked for the Women’s Voluntary Service during the Battle of Britain, becoming particularly involved in the rehabilitation of Spanish-speaking Gibraltarians.

Farmborough later spent four years as a government censor in Jamaica, checking correspondence to and from South America. Back in England, she settled at Sompting near Worthing, Sussex, and gave Russian lessons at her home to pupils from the local high school. Later she moved to Newton Abbot. She made a return visit to Russia in 1962, and visited the Holy Land in 1966. In the mid-1970s, she was the subject of a BBC documentary. She was awarded Honorary Life Membership of the British Red Cross. She died on 18 August 1978. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, Lives of the First World War, Working Nurse, Imperial War Museum, and

While working as a nurse with the Russian army Farnborough also acted as a 
war correspondent for the BBC and The Times, carrying a glass-plate camera, tripod and darkroom essentials from camp to camp; her many photographs are now held by the Imperial War Museum, and are considered of historical importance. She also kept a diary, often written on scraps of paper. However, it was not until the 1970s, when she was already an old woman, that she decided to edit the diary, subsequently published by Constable as Nurse at the Russian Front - A Diary 1914-18. Since then, it has become a source book for those studying the Great War, the realities of war, and women’s roles in war - see here for example. Reviewers at Good Reads rate the book as compelling, heartbreaking, fascinating. Here are several extracts. (I have listed them by their date in the Western calendar, but have also included, in brackets, the date as given in the book, Russian style, i.e. 13 days behind behind the Western calendar.) 

3 June (21 May) 1916
‘I was told that in Hut 131 a sick woman needed attention. At length I found her, a young mother, sick with typhoid, and her baby. We Sisters are doing our level best to instil into the village-folk the urgent need to boil all their drinking-water - an idea which seems unable to take root in the peasant mind. The same old argument is raised: his parents never drank boiled water, why should he? But we persist. They listen attentively, but their minds are quite impervious to the meaning of ‘pollution’ and ‘contamination’.

Before retiring for the night, it was whispered around that a great battle was expected within the next twenty-four hours, but we sceptically went off to sleep, having heard it so often before.’

27 June (14 June) 1916
‘I was told that well over 200 men had passed through our Unit today; I was also told something that almost took my breath away: that some 3,000 men are to come to us during the next few days to be fed, as the Zemski Soyuz has arranged that enormous supplies of food should be stored in the town under our unit’s supervision. This will entail a vast amount of extra work for our Letuchka; luckily, however, the regiments concerned have agreed to send us extra help.

I sat in the operating-room, awaiting further newcomers. I think that I must have slept, for when I opened my eyes, my watch was pointing to midnight, and all around was very quiet. At 6 a.m. more wounded arrived. One of them had a most unusual wound; a bullet had entered his body at the shoulder-blade, gone down his right side and lodged in his thigh. After an early breakfast, we resumed our work. I extracted a bullet from the upper left arm of a young soldier; it was not a difficult extraction, for the tail-end of the bullet was visible, but even after the wound was cleansed and bandaged, he continued to weep and moan: “Sestritsa, bolit! bolit! [Little Sister, it hurts!].” I was washing the face of another young soldier, a face covered with grime, dust and dried blood. “Sestritsa,” my patient said, with an attempt at a smile. “Leave it dirty! I shall not go visiting any more.” At first I thought that he was joking and some light-hearted repartee was on the tip of my tongue; then I saw the ugly gash on his head and I understood what he meant.

One of the stomach patients had deteriorated greatly in the last few hours. The craving for water was on him; it was all that a Brother and I could do to prevent him from throwing himself off his straw mattress. In his delirium he cried out that he and his comrades were drinking from a great river, and that he was drinking, drinking, always drinking.

In the tent which housed the sick, the patients were less restless. One soldier refused to drink because the water given to him had been boiled; he vowed that boiled water always gave him colic. A young Tatar assured me that if only I would allow him to sit up and smoke, in two days’ time he would be up and about again; but as things were, he said that it was Plokhoye delo! Ochen plokhoye delo! [Bad business! Very bad business!].’

30 July (17 July) 1916
‘About 70 wounded came during the night while I was on duty. I have heard that the 103rd Regiment has managed to cross the River Koronez and occupy Dubenko, half of which town had been in its possession for several days past. The 102nd Regiment has gone into reserve for three days after three and a half months in the trenches.

Our next attack is timed for 4 p.m. The guns have been blazing away. Mamasha and I slipped away for a few minutes, climbed a small hill and crouched on its summit among waving corn and wild flowers. From our vantage point, we could see the Front spread before us. Shells were falling, throwing up blackish clouds of earth about our trenches; farther away, our shells were engaged in similar action near the enemy’s defensive ramparts. Shrapnel was exploding in mid-air, leaving puffs of slowly dissolving smoke behind, and scattering bullets and metal particles to right and left. We picked a few flowers and returned to our quarters.

Dusk had scarcely descended when cartload after cartload of wounded made their appearance. Difficulty arose regarding transport; the highways round Barish were under fire and our ambulance-vans in urgent request alongside the Fighting Lines. We placed the men on the straw-strewn earth in the empty sheds, told them to rest awhile and, at the earliest opportunity, they should be driven to the Base. A young Tatar, heavily wounded, was carried to the operating-table. He could speak no Russian and vainly tried to whisper something to us which we could not understand. One of our Tatar drivers was sent for; he stooped low over the prostrate form, but no answer came to his eager questioning. “He’s gone!” said a voice. The weather-beaten face of the older tribesman stiffened with emotion as he walked away. An infantry officer whose thigh-wound had been dressed and bandaged, declared that he could walk without difficulty; he was most anxious to help and assured us that he had taken a first aid course before joining the Army. He was allowed to tend the more lightly wounded and this he did with considerable skill, but insisted on wearing rubber gloves which, he said, gave him greater confidence and grip.’

26 August (13 August) 1916
I was at my post by 8 a.m. Two men have died, one after a trepanning operation, the other when he was being carried to the operating-table. It has been an unhappy day for me, because I have been through a very trying experience. Perhaps, by writing down all the facts clearly, my mind may be eased of some of its guilt. ‘Guilt’ is a strong word to use, but I was told during the afternoon by Ivan Ivanovich, our head dispenser, that I could consider myself “guilty of murder”. It seems strange to write these words, but the whole scene was strange. I was watching over three men who had recently been operated on, but were gradually losing their hold on life. Our surgeons had seen them in the morning, had said that there was nothing more that one could do for them, only “tend them to the end”. One of the three was the stomach case, operated on during the previous night. He had regained consciousness, but found it difficult to speak; he could articulate only one word: Vo da [water]. I would shake my head; tell him gently that he must not drink; when he would be stronger, water would be given to him. I could see that he was dying, but his cries for water were insistent; he was beseeching, imploring; his thirst must have been agonising. Near one of the other men, a mug of water was standing. He had seen it and, raising an arm, pointed towards it. His eyes challenged mine; they were dying eyes, but fiercely alight with the greatness of his thirst. I reasoned with myself: if I give no water, he will die tormented by his great thirst; if I give him water, he will die, but his torment will be lessened. In my weakness and compassion, I reached for the mug; his burning eyes were watching me; they held suspense and gratitude. I put the mug to his lips, but he seized my arm and tilted the mug upwards. The water splashed into his open mouth, sprayed his face and pillow, but he was swallowing it in noisy gulps. When I could free my arm from his grasp, the mug was empty.

I was deeply distressed and knew that I was trembling. I wiped his face dry and he opened his eyes and looked at me; in them, I saw a great thankfulness, an immense relief. But, before I could replace the mug, a strange, gurgling sound came from him, and, out of his mouth, there poured a stream of thick, greenish fluid; it spread over the stretcher-bed and flowed on to the floor. His eyes were closed and . . . he had stopped breathing. I ran to the door; in the yard stood a Brother and Ivan Ivanovich. “Come quickly,” I begged them. They followed me in, but there was nothing that one could do, for he was dead. Ivan Ivanovich seemed to take in the whole picture at a glance. “Have you given him water to drink?” he asked. “Yes,” I nodded. “His thirst was terrible.” “Then you have killed him,” he said, and added: “Quite simply, you have killed him.” “He was dying,” I gasped. “So you thought you would put the finishing touch!” Shrugging his shoulders, he left the room. The Brother called an orderly and together they washed the dead man and carried him to the mortuary-shed.

I remained in the room until one of them returned. I felt cold and lifeless; as though some violent thing had struck me unawares. Only Mamasha was in our room; she was the last person whom I wished to see; she was so practical and undemonstrative, but I felt that I had to tell somebody. She listened patiently. Then she said: “You are very silly to let these things prey on your mind. You were certainly wrong in disobeying orders, but this kind of thing is happening every day in our abnormal world at the Front. As to Ivan Ivanovich, I have always said that the man is a knave or a fool, or both. In the circumstances, and knowing that death was near, I am sure that, had I been in your place, I should have done exactly the same thing.’’ “Mamasha,” I sobbed. And then for the first time in our long acquaintance, Mamasha took me into her arms and I could feel the throbbing of her motherly heart, comforting and consoling. It didn’t hurt half so much after that. I knew that all my life I should have the grievous memory of hastening a soldier’s death through my disobedience; but, at the same time, there would be another less grievous memory: that of a pair of dying eyes looking at me with infinite gratitude. Throughout the evening, the wounded were being brought to us. We buried our many dead as dusk fell, with prayers, music and the silent homage of soldiers who were stationed in the vicinity.’

21 June (8 June) 1917
‘Enemy aeroplanes had been over about 4 a.m. and awakened us; discontented murmurings came from most beds. We took turns in washing, with as little water as possible. Once or twice we had tried to persuade Rupertsov, our tent-boy, to scrounge another bucketful for us. He would screw his face up and shake his head. Smirnov’s tent was next door to the water-cart and woe betide the person who tried to steal more than his share, for Smirnov knew each one’s quota to a spoonful. Our water-cart had to go to Bojikov to be filled, so we had been warned not to be extravagant.’

27 October (14 October) 1917
‘I was still dressing when the father returned. Outside in the street a little group of mourners stood; two were carrying an empty coffin; another was holding a discoloured banner. There was no priest. They took the boy’s body, which we had wrapped in a sheet, and laid it in the coffin. The father came hastily toward me, bowed low and kissed my hand. I do not know whether he saw the tears in my eyes. As they moved away, they began to sing a dirge-like chant.

In the evening, we were told that all the Red Cross Otryads of the Zemski Soyuz would be disbanded, with three exceptions: the 1st, 5th and 10th. So we, the 10th, would, thank God, remain!’

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Vere Hunt in a crashing machine

‘Set out at two o’clock for Tipperary . . . Soon after I had the misfortune to find myself in a crashing machine, for, crash went the front spring of the crazy depository in which I was journeying, and, having extricated myself by a judicious leap-out from the ill-fated vehicle, I perambulated ankle-deep to the aforesaid Bruff, when, then and there arriving, I found the parlour of the Inn occupied by Cork butchers and discontented farmers.’ This is the entertaining Vere Hunt - soldier, politician, gambler and enlightened landlord - writing in his diary about market day at Bruff, in the county of Limerick, Ireland. He died two centuries ago today, leaving behind a series of diaries only a few extracts of which have ever been published.

Hunt, born in 1761,
 at Curragh Chase in County Limerick, was the oldest son of Vere Hunt and his second wife Anne Browne. He had one brother, John Fitzmaurice, and a sister, Jane. He inherited his father’s estate, and, in 1784, married Eleanor daughter of Lord Glenworth, the Protestant bishop of Limerick. He was elevated to a baronetcy the same year, and also became High Sheriff of County Limerick. He showed loyal support to the King and raised and commanded three regiments of foot during the French Revolutionary Wars. On returning to Ireland he was made MP for the Borough of Askeaton in 1797, but the Borough was disenfranchised at the Union, and he left politics in 1800.

Hunt was the founder of a village called New Birmingham in Tipperary, which he had built to service a coal mine he owned at Glengoole. He is remembered as a progressive landlord, often seeking ways to improve the lot of his tenants. However, he was not a great entrepreneur. He purchased Lundy Island, for example, believing it would save him from paying British taxes. After installing an Irish colony there, the place soon became a liability, and it was many years before the family was able to dispose of it. He appears to have had a tendency to gambling, which led him to spend some in a debtor’s jail in London. He was also known to have a strong liking for the theatre and literature. Vere’s only son Aubrey was educated at Harrow with Lord Byron and Robert Peel, and went on to have five sons and three daughters. He was grandfather to the poet and critic Aubrey Thomas de Vere and to the politician and social commentator Sir Stephen de Vere, 4th Baronet. He died on 11 August 1818. A little further information can be found at Wikipedia, the Limerick City website, and the Glengoole website.

Hunt left behind some diaries, most of which 
(1796-1809) are held by Limerick City Library - a full description of them can be found around page 40 in this large Word file on the Hunt and De Vere family holdings. Although the diaries have never been published in book form, the Dublin Magazine published some extracts in 1943, and then Melosina Lenox-Conyngham included a significant batch of those extracts in her Diaries of Ireland - An Anthology 1590-1987 (Lilliput Press, Dublin 1998). Some pages can be read online at Amazon, but a pdf of all the pages on Hunt can be read online at the Limerick City website. The following extracts are all taken from Lenox-Conyngham’s book.

28 March 1798
‘The County [Limerick] met at one over the Exchange. I proposed that it be recommended to landlords to give a temporary abatement to poor tenants on account of the fall of grain, and to pay tythes for those under £10 a year rent. It was negatived. A memorial was sent to the Lord Lieutenant signed by thirty-six Justices to proclaim the entire county as in a state of insurrection. Dined at Harry Fosbery’s and got drunk.’

9 April 1798
‘My dear wife & darling Aubrey went to Limerick on their way to Dublin & probably England to avoid the dangers of this unhappy distracted county ... A guard mounted. Then came back to dinner, lonesome! I cd not eat a bit.’

17 April 1798
‘Heard that my Uncle Harry’s son, Phineas, was the head of the United Irishmen about Cappah, but that he gave himself up to General Sir James Duff and made a full discovery.’

19 May 1798, Dublin
‘Dined at Tom Quin’s. At nine an express came for the Surgeon-General, who dined with us, to go off to dress Lord Edward Fitzgerald’s wounds, who had just been taken by Major Sirr and Justices Swan and Ryan.’

23 May 1798, Dublin
‘The town in great confusion and a rising expected every hour ... Went to the Castle, saw Lord Edward Fitzgerald’s uniform ... Lord Rossmore showed me an impression of the Great Seal found on Lord Edward ... People taken up every instant and flogged by military law to get confessions ... Determined to send my family off without delay, called with a hackney coach for Lady Hunt, Aubrey and Jenny Bindon, and set out for the Prince of Wales Packet. She could not sail, the wind being foul, and we all slept on board. Heard from Captain Hill of the Lady Fitzgibbon that Frank Arthur, Dr Hargrove, Doctor Ross (all from Limerick) and others were apprehended, and from my Uncle William Hunt that his son Billy was taken up.’

17 January 1800, Dublin
‘Got into the harbour at daylight and after landing, proceeded to Dublin on foot and put up at Quin’s Hotel in Crow Street. In the evening to the House of Commons and most warmly welcomed by Lord Castlereagh. Called on Lord Glentworth and consulted him on my expectations from Government. Strongly advised by him not to take any bargain, as those who acted steadily and honourably to the Government would be more liberally treated than if they made a contract.’

3 April 1811, Curragh Chase
‘This morning at four o’clock departed this life, John Leahy, who lived for seventy or eighty years with my father and me, and who lived as a pensioner with me for the last twenty years. His honesty and fidelity were great, and I sincerely lament the departure of so old, tried and valuable a domestic. Ordered a coffin to be made for him of the old elm-tree, coeval with himself, or rather antecedent to him, which was blown down last winter. Kill a lamb and dine on a forequarter of it, fish etc. Dr Lee the parish priest of Adare with me. After dinner, he and I go up to Leahy’s house, where I give directions for his wake, funeral etc. Lee sleeps here.’

17 May 1813, Dublin
‘Look in at Gilbert and Hodges, see some books bespoke by Aubrey, and see for the first time the celebrated Archibald Hamilton Rowan, who walked in attended by two monstrous and beautiful Danish dogs.’

4 June 1813, Dublin
‘Very fine day, and being the King’s birthday, the town was in bustle and hurry from morning till night. In the early part of the day a Review in the Phoenix Park, where all ranks and classes were crowded together to see poor soldiers sweating and stinking, and great Militia officers, from the mighty Colonel to the puny Ensigns, exhibiting their bravery and military acquirements. City Buckeens on hired horses and with borrowed boots and spurs; young misses slipping away from their mammas to meet their lovers; old maids taking snuff, and talking and thinking of old times; pickpockets waiting for a lob, and old bawds and whores for a cull; handkerchiefs in constant employ, wiping dust, sweat and dander from the face and head; coaches, landaus, gigs, curricles and jaunting cars in constant jostle and confusion in the backstreet to avoid paying money and the shops open to try to get some; mail coaches making a grand procession through the principal streets.

A Levee at the Castle, attended as usual by pimps, parasites, hangers-on, aidecamps, state-officers, expectant clergymen, hungry lawyers, spies, informers, and the various descriptions of characters that constitute the herd of which the motley petty degraded and pretended Court of this poor fallen country is made up. Alas, poor Ireland.

I spent the day lounging about, seeing what was to be seen, and, in proud feelings of superior independence, looked down with utter contempt of the weakness of an administration, imbecile, evasive, and mouldering into contempt; and every loss of public opinion and respect ever must attend the paltry pretended administration of this despicable and degraded country.

After dinner take a rambling circuit over Westmoreland Street and up Anglesea Street. Lounge into booksellers’ shops, then to Crow Street to see, according to ancient custom, all the blackguard boys collected to insult and pelt with small stones, gravel, periwinkles, etc. the ladies who go to the Play on this night. Boxes being free for the ladies, consequently it may be supposed what degree of respect is due to that class of the tender sex who avail themselves of enjoying a theatrical treat.’

3 November 1813, Dublin
‘Omitted in my journal yesterday that I saw the new Lord Lieutenant, Lord Whitworth, for the first time, it being his weekly day of giving audience, and of keeping up the mockery of state in this fallen and degraded sham-court.

He drove in from the park with his wife, the Duchess of Dorset, and one aide de camp, in a plain coach and four postilions in buff cloth, plain jackets, and two out-riders. The castle seemed deserted, few, I believe, seeking audience; and except the mere hangers-on, secretaries and clerks, two or three Generals and Judges, I presume, from appearance, His Excellency was not much annoyed by visitors.’

18 October 1814, Bruff
‘Arrived in Bruff at half past one. Fair day there and meet many friends in Bennett’s Inn, all in desponding strains, lamenting the decreased value of fat cattle, the best fat cows bringing this day but twelve guineas each. Milch cows high from £18 to £20, pigs tolerably high, sheep low. Set out at two o’clock for Tipperary and meet near Kilballyowen a very fine threshing machine for Decourcy O’Grady. Soon after I had the misfortune to find myself in a crashing machine, for, crash went the front spring of the crazy depository in which I was journeying, and, having extricated myself by a judicious leap-out from the ill-fated vehicle, I perambulated ankle-deep to the aforesaid Bruff, when, then and there arriving, I found the parlour of the Inn occupied by Cork butchers and discontented farmers to whose society I would have unfortunately been consigned for the day but for the hospitality of John Bennett who invited me to his house, where I fared capitally both in board and bed. I was highly pleased at seeing there in a very small square pond opposite his hall door, duck, mallard, cooter and various other wild fowl in great abundance and perfect tameness, and I was particularly amused by the eccentricities of Standy Bennett who, in his way, is both clever and entertaining ... he is about to publish a book of poems, which of course I will be among the first to have. In bed at eleven and sleep like a top.’

The Diary Junction

Monday, August 6, 2018

Einstein’s wonderful day

‘One of the finest days of my life. Radiant skies. Toledo like a fairy tale. An enthusiastic old man, who had supposedly written something of import about (Goy) El Greco, guides us. [. . .] Small garden with vistas near synagogue. Magnificent painting by El Greco in small church (burial of a nobleman) is among the profoundest images I have ever seen. Wonderful day.’ This is from the private travel diary of one the world’s most famous scientists, Albert Einstein. Although not accustomed to keeping a diary, he started doing so, in his 40s, when travelling. Of six extant diaries, two have been published - and are freely available online as part of The Digital Einstein Papers. However, Princeton University Press has just published a more comprehensive edition of the diary Einstein kept on a tour to the Far East, Palestine and Spain. Never intended for publication, the diary reveals Einstein unguardedly expressing joy, as in the above extract, but also a degree of racism that has been much discussed by reviewers of the new book.

Einstein was born in 1879 in Ulm, in the Kingdom of Württemberg in the German Empire (now in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg). Within a few months, the family had moved to Munich where his father and uncle founded a company manufacturing electrical equipment. Though Jewish by birth, he attended a Catholic school for several years before enrolling in the secondary school, Luitpold Gymnasium. When his father was forced to sell his business, the family moved to Italy, and Einstein continued his education in Switzerland, where he trained as a maths and physics teacher. In 1901, he became a Swiss citizen, and, unable to get a teaching job, joined the Swiss Patent Office. He married Mileva Marić, a fellow student, in 1903 and they had two sons. (However, in 1987, it was discovered that Marić had also given birth earlier to Einstein’s illegitimate daughter but that the baby had either died or been given up for adoption.)

In 1905, Einstein completed his doctor’s degree; he also published several groundbreaking papers, not least one on special relativity including what would become the famous equation E=mc2. International recognition followed swiftly, with an associate professorship at the University of Zurich, and a full professorship at the Charles-Ferdinand University in Prague. In 1914, he was appointed director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics in Berlin (a post he retained until 1932). After several years of separation, he divorced Marić, and married his cousin Elsa Löwenthal. (For an insight into their life together see Harry Kessler’s diaries - Dined with the Einsteins.) In 1922, Einstein was awarded, after some delay, the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics ‘for his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect’.

From the 1920s, Einstein was working towards a unified field theory which, apart from gravitation, was also to include electrodynamics. Although he never succeeded in this grand task, he continued to provide lasting contributions to statistical mechanics, special relativity, quantum mechanics, physical cosmology among other branches of maths and physics. He received many honorary doctorate degrees in science, medicine and philosophy from European and American universities, as well as fellowships or memberships of leading scientific academies. He travelled widely, meeting other scientists, and giving lectures. Sailing back to Europe from a trip to the US in 1933, he learned of new German laws barring Jews from holding academic positions, and decided he could not return to Berlin. Other countries, particularly Britain, sought to give him residency. However, he chose to take up American citizenship, and a position at the newly-founded Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, to which he remained affiliated for the rest of his life.

Einstein was an active Zionist. He helped establish the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which opened in 1925, and was among its first governors. Much later, in 1952, he was invited to take up the ceremonial post of President of Israel, though he turned this down. He was also an outspoken advocate for the idea of a world government, and he was a pacifist. However, on the eve of World War II, he famously sent a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt alerting him to Germany’s potential to develop an atomic bomb and urging the US to begin research into similar techniques. Later, he campaigned to warn of the danger of nuclear arms. Wikipedia says he published more than 300 scientific papers and more than 150 non-scientific works in his lifetime. He died in 1955. Further information is also available at Princeton University Press, the Nobel Prize website,, Encyclopaedia Britannica. There are also many biographies available at Internet Archive and Googlebooks.

There is no evidence that Einstein was a diarist by habit but, in the 1920s, he started to keep diaries when travelling. There are six diaries extant from five trips, the first written during his 1922-1923 journey to the Far East, Palestine and Spain, a second written in South America in 1925, and the other four written during three consecutive winter trips to the USA between late 1930 and early 1933. The first two of the six have been published in volumes 13 and 14 respectively of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, produced by the Einstein Papers Project, and published by Princeton University Press.

The Einstein Papers Project was established in 1986 by Princeton University Press and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem ‘to assemble, preserve, translate, and publish papers selected from the literary estate of Albert Einstein’ (based in Pasadena, California, at the California Institute of Technology). The volumes are published in the original German, but also in English translation. The Collected Works series has only reached the mid-1920s, and so, presumably, it will be some years before the USA diaries are published. All the hardback volumes are also being made freely available online through The Digital Einstein Papers, hosted by Princeton University Press. Thus, both the first two diaries can be found online, buried deep within the volumes (Far East, Palestine and Spain, and South America).

Although the first travel diary has already been published in print and online, Princeton University Press has now published a far more comprehensive edition - The Travel Diaries of Albert Einstein: The Far East, Palestine & Spain 1922-1923, as edited by Ze’ev Rosenkranz, senior editor and assistant director of the Einstein Papers Project. According to the publisher: ‘Quirky, succinct, and at times irreverent the entries record Einstein’s musings on science, philosophy, art, and politics, as well as his immediate impressions and broader thoughts on such events as his inaugural lecture at the future site of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, a garden party hosted by the Japanese Empress, an audience with the King of Spain, and meetings with other prominent colleagues and statesmen.’

The handsomely-produced book (which can be previewed at Googlebooks) includes photographic images of every page of Einstein’s diary, extensive notes and references, and a long informative introduction by Rosenkranz. He explains, for example, how this diary and other papers were saved from the Germans: on hearing that Einstein could not return to Berlin in January 1933, his son-in-law removed the diary and other papers from Einstein’s office for safe-keeping in the French embassy, and for subsequent transfer by diplomatic pouch to Paris. He discusses why Einstein might have started to keep travel diaries at this point in time, and he argues that the diaries were never written with a view to publication (but, probably, for family members). He also analyses - and tries to explain - several entries in the diary in which Einstein expresses racist opinions. These particular entries, offering an unexpectedly darker side to Einstein's personality, have been widely reported in the press (see the BBC and the Mail Online - but also The New York Times).

Here are several extracts from the diary, courtesy of Princeton University Press. (NB: for simplicity, the annotations that appear in the original have been omitted.)

21 November 1922
‘Chrysanthemum festival at the imperial palace garden. Great difficulty in procuring a fitting frock coat along with top hat. The former from unknown donor via Mr. Barwald, who brought it personally; the latter from Mr. Yamamoto; far too small, so I had to carry it around in my hand the whole afternoon. We were with the foreign diplomats, who were arranged in a semicircle. Picked up and accompanied by the German embassy. Jap[anese] empress stepped around the inside of the semicircle and spoke a few words with husbands and wives from the embassies, with me a few kind words in French. Then refreshments in the garden at tables, where I was introduced to infinitely many people. Garden marvelous, artificial hills, water, picturesque autumn foliage. Chrysanthemums in booths properly lined up like soldiers. The hanging chrysanthemums are the most beautiful. In the evening, cozy evening at the Berliners’ charming japanese home. He, an intelligent political economist, she, a gracious, intelligent woman, true native of Berlin. Lazing about under such conditions is more tiring than working, but the Inagakis help us with touching solicitude.’

29 November 1922
‘While in shirtsleeves received a card from pastor Steinichen announcing his visit to keep me informed about Frau Schulze’s case. Changed and got dressed quickly, partly in his presence. Then the English physician Gordon-Munroe, who was attending Frau Schulze. Verified that wife’s psychosis is due to husband’s maltreatment (employee at the German Embassy). 10:30, tea ceremony in a fine Japanese home. Exactly prescribed ceremony for a meal to celebrate friendship. Glimpse into the contemplative cultural life of the Japanese. The man has written four thick volumes on the ceremony, which he proudly showed us. Then, reception by 10,000 students at Waseda University, founded by Okuma (?) in the spirit of democracy, with addresses. Lunch at hotel. Then lecture. Viewing of the institute. Interesting communication about electric-arc line-shift. At 6:30 reception by pedagogical societies. During farewells, greeting by female seminar participants outside. Sweet, cheerful scene of throngs in semi-darkness. Too much love and spoiling for one mortal. Arrival home dead tired.’

6 March 1923
‘Excursion to Toledo concealed through many lies. One of the finest days of my life. Radiant skies. Toledo like a fairy tale. An enthusiastic old man, who had supposedly written something of import about (Goy) El Greco, guides us. Streets and market place, views onto the city, the Tagus with stone bridges, stone-covered hills, charming plain, cathedral, synagogue, sunset on the homeward trip with glowing colors. Small garden with vistas near synagogue. Magnificent painting by El Greco in small church (burial of a nobleman) is among the profoundest images I have ever seen. Wonderful day.’

The three extracts immediately above are excerpted from THE TRAVEL DIARIES OF ALBERT EINSTEIN: The Far East, Palestine, & Spain 1922-1923 ed. by Ze’ev Rosenkranz. Editorial apparatus and diary translation copyright © 2018 by Princeton University Press. Travel diary, additional texts, and endpaper images copyright © 2018 by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Reprinted by permission of Princeton University Press.