Wednesday, February 27, 2019

I do not quit my post here

‘The sea may be open both above and below, and even if open off-shore, may never release this ship from her present prison until every matter requisite for her extraction is fairly prepared, and nothing left but taking advantage of the first lead, I do not quit my post here.’ This is from a published narrative written by Captain Edward Belcher - born 220 years ago today - during his last and disastrous expedition to the Arctic region. In fact, despite the above sentiment, he abandoned four of his five ships, hopelessly stuck in ice (though, one subsequently drifted free on its own), and was never given another commission again. Previously, he had undertaken two successful long surveying expeditions, and had published narratives of those journeys too. While the narratives appear to be have been written in retrospect (presumably from diaries), Belcher often - especially in the account of the last expedition - resorts to using diary-type dated extracts.

Belcher was born on 27 February 1799 in Halifax, Nova Scotia (then British, now Canadian), where his father Andrew Belcher was a prominent member of the Nova Scotia Council. Aged 13, he enlisted in the British Royal Navy as a first class volunteer. In 1816, as a midshipman in HMS Superb, he took part in the Battle of Algiers; and in 1818 he was promoted to lieutenant. After 1820, he visited the United States, investigated channels near Bermuda, and served on the Nova Scotia station in the Salisbury. In 1825, for more than three years, he sailed with Captain Frederick William Beechey in the HMS Blossom on an exploration of the Pacific and Alaskan coasts. He was made commander in March 1829, and from 1830 to 1833 commanded the Aetna, surveying parts of the west and north coasts of Africa. In 1830, he married Diana Joliffe, but the marriage was soon blighted by her claims of cruelty, and legal actions that eventually led to an arranged separation.

In 1836, Belcher was given command of the Sulphur, a surveying ship (
after its captain, Beechey, was invalided home), and continued its work for the next three years along the coasts of North and South America. At the end of 1839, he received orders to return to England by way of the Western route. However, in Singapore, he was ordered back to China, and was subsequently engaged in war operations along the Canton River. In 1841, he made the first British survey of the Hong Kong harbour. After seven years, he and his ship finally returned to England in 1842, where he was knighted the following year. Thereafter, he was engaged on HMS Samarang, initially to survey the coast of China (the war having opened up the area to trade), but was diverted further east to Borneo and the Philippines, among other places, where he remained five years surveying coasts and fighting pirates.

In 1852, Belcher was given command of a large expedition (five ships led by HMS Assistance) with the aim of searching for Sir John Franklin’s expedition which had been lost in 1845 when attempting to find the Northwest Passage. Belcher spent two years scouring for signs of Franklin’s expedition, often making long trips on land by sledge, but found little evidence of what had happened to it. His own ships then also got into serious difficulty because of the winter conditions, so much so that he abandoned four of them to the ice before making it back to England in HMS North Star. (However, one of the abandoned ships, the Resolute, broke free and drifted until picked up by an American whaler. The ship was returned to the UK, where many years later some of its timbers were used to make a desk for the American president. Given as a present by Queen Victoria, the Resolute desk remains in use in the Oval Office.)

Although exonerated by the Navy for losing his ships, Belcher never received another command. However, he was made Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 1867, and an admiral in 1872. He died in 1877. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required), and the Belcher Foundation (though the latter two have markedly different assessments of the man).

Belcher published three two-volume narratives describing in detail each of his major expeditions: Narrative of a Voyage Round the World (1843); Narrative of the Voyage of HMS Samarang, During the Years 1843-46 (1848), and The Last of the Arctic Voyages (1855). Most of the text in these books reads like a narrative, not a diary, but they were surely written with the help of an expedition diary, kept by Belcher or a subordinate. I can’t find any evidence of such diaries extant today, with one exception: the National Library of New Zealand holds Belcher’s private journal from his time on HMS Blossom in 1825-1827. Otherwise, the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich holds the Royal Navy order books for Belcher’s expeditions.

Nevertheless, within the published ‘narratives’ there are entries that are dated and read as though they were taken directly from a diary (
much more so in the last set than in the first). The following examples are taken from the second volume of The Last of the Arctic Voyages: Being a narrative of the expedition in H.M.S. Assistance under the command of Captain Sir Edward Belcher, C.B. in search of the Sir John Franklin, during the years 1852-53-54. Both volumes (Vol 1 and Vol 2) are freely available at Internet Archive.

5 February 1854
‘The weather still remains line, but the temperature still clinging to -40°. Yesterday, under a change of wind to the northward, a point from which it seldom blows, we experienced a fall of snow, the temperature dropping, contrary to rule, as low as -50°; this was succeeded by calm and a rise to -40°.

After prayers today the bodies of our two men were interred in the same grave, with the customary solemnities. I had already deferred it some days, in the hope of milder weather; indeed, in a great measure, to enable me to officiate in my proper place; but the superstitious feelings of the crew were at work, and I thought it better to stop talking and conclude the ceremony. The service was read by Commander Richards; indeed I suffered severely from the exposure, which sent me to bed with severe rheumatism, or, what I am more inclined to believe, an attack of jaundice.

4 March 1854
‘I have not progressed towards recovery as I had anticipated; in fact, I learn that this is not a climate to trifle with. Undue exertion of the lungs (reading the service on Sunday) has thrown me back and confined me to cabin exercise. The following ideas have lately been 
impressed on me: 1. Never to pass over, as unworthy of thought, after the first year particularly, any symptoms similar to rheumatism, affection of chest or voice, discoloration, emaciation, etc., but at once meet the question by full diet, stimulated even by curries, etc. Exercise is important; injudicious exposure to severe cold should not be risked. This probably has been my fault, or possibly not quite my own, for my preaching has ever been, “not to expose the lungs unnecessarily to a lower temperature than can be avoided.” Latterly our upper deck, under the housing, has maintained a higher temperature by nineteen degrees above the external atmosphere, with a complete shelter from the slightest breeze.’

15 March 1854
‘Our ice-gauge having been raised, we content ourselves with the simple measurement of the in-shore ice, principally with the intent of discovering the approximate moment when the sea-water season terminates; or when the ice crystals, constantly pervading the sea beneath the floe, cease to attach themselves to the under surface, and thus increase the homogeneousness of the floe. Our thickness today affords sixty-five inches, = five feet five inches, and the last ten-day temperatures as under:- Max - 19.00°; min. -49.62°; mean, -34.629°; previous, -32.733°

Our last Division has been delayed to this preconceived date, in the expectation of a decided change of season; and the temperature having risen to -23°, and the wind lulled, I determined to push forward Messrs. Grove and Pim, with the ‘Dauntless’ and ‘Reward,’ on the morrow, should the weather continue propitious.’

19 March 1854
‘The breeze has failed and the temperature again fallen to -40°. We have not been visited by the old noises termed “bolt-breaking” for some time, but last night the outer ice evinced great uneasiness, and reports of heavy and repeated cracks were heard during the whole night. From the report of those sent to examine the outer ice, I gather that the exterior ice already exhibits large rents, and the fissures generally seem to indicate a probability of off-shore leads whenever the ice is relieved from off-shore pressure. To those accustomed to view these matters it will of course be apparent; but to the uninitiated it may be necessary to explain, that this dislocated state of the off-lying pack affords us better grounds for release than if we had been frozen up in smooth continuous floe of equal thickness, as the pack invariably falls asunder at the first thaw, and may either float off or be compressed into smaller space, and thus afford space for motion, the great desideratum in these cases; on the other hand, when the floe is continuous and of equal thickness, it is only disrupted by forces which would entail destruction on our insignificant vessels.

My own conviction is, that no opinion as to ultimate release can be formed on this side of Beechey Island, and then not before July or probably until the 22nd of August, notwithstanding the unprecedented open water found here on the 14th of the latter month in 1852, and that, as it appears by reports of not many hours later, was closed almost to boats.

Last year Commander Pullen, on his first journey to Cape Becher, on the 10th of April, found the ice very treacherous with many pools of water; but then we experienced many warm days during the months of February and March. But the open water above our present position and that below, or southerly to Beechey Island, are dependent on very different conditions. We know, from actual experience now, that the Polar Sea may be open and in active motion as early as the 18th of May, as noticed on that date from Britannia Cliff, and we also know that the sea was open on the 14th of July, last season, at Northumberland Sound, yet still sealed near Hamilton Island late in August. But to my mind the cause is very clear - as clear as the North Sea and British Channel flood-tides meeting at high water near Dover. North of our present position, the flood-tide sets in from the Polar Sea and brings its warmer oceanic water; southerly, the flood has to pass up Lancaster Sound, then to be deflected up this channel, and makes high water somewhere between this and Beechey Island; hence the inaction in this particular neighbourhood when the sea may be open both above and below, and even if open off-shore, may never release this ship from her present prison. But until every matter requisite for her extraction is fairly prepared, and nothing left but taking advantage of the first lead, I do not quit my post here.’

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Making of a Russian censor

‘The minister of education summoned me for a talk. I arrived at 1 o’clock. “The matter of your appointment to the Press Committee,” the minister said to me, “has taken a rather serious and delicate turn. The emperor has expressed his desire for your appointment [. . .] “Yes,” I replied, “this really puts me in an awkward position. I am prepared to undertake any kind of work which would offer at least some hope for a cause which means so much to me as learning and literature. But if this committee was created for the moral supervision of literature, as its members claim it was, there are no grounds for its existence and it doesn’t have a leg to stand on. If it is going to turn into a secret committee, it is standing on muddy ground and I don’t want to soil myself on it.” ’ This is the Ukrainian, Aleksandr Nikitenko, writing in his diary, exactly 160 years ago today, about being offered a top posting as a central committee censor - all the more remarkable an achievement since he had been born into serfdom. The diary was published in English, some 100 years after his death, as The Diary of a Russian Censor.

Nikitenko was born in Sloboda, Ukraine, in 1804 or 1805, a serf and the property of Count Nikolai Sheremetev, for whom his educated father acted as an estate manager. By 1822, he was working in Ostogozhsk scraping a living as a private tutor. In 1924, he came to the notice of several educated and influential individuals, who then helped him, first, to become a free man, to take up residence in the household of E. P. Obolensky (a future Decembrist), and to study history and philosophy at the Saint Petersburg University. In 1826, he published his first article ‘On Overcoming the Misfortunes’, and was subsequently hired as secretary by the district superintendent of education, K. M. Borozdin. In that position, he compiled a commentary for the new censorship code. He married in mid-1833.

By 1834, Nikitenko had been appointed professor of philology at the university, and in 1837, he was awarded his Doctor of Philosophy (with a dissertation ‘On Creative Power of Poetry or Poetic Genius’). From 1833 to 1848, Nikitenko was a member of the local censorship committee, and a liberal one it seems, since he was arrested on more than occasion for allowing certain literary works to be circulated. From 1853, he worked for the Ministry for People’s Education as extraordinary commissioner; and from 1859 until 1865 he served as a member of the Central Censorship Department, ardently promoting the importance of literature. Otherwise, he acted as editor for several publications, such as Sovremennik (1847-1948) and Zhurnal Ministerstva Narodnogo Prosveshcheniya (1856-1860), and Severnaya Pochta (1862). He died in 1877. A little further - though not much - biographical info can be gathered from Wikipedia, the Saint Petersburg Encyclopaedia, or H-Net. In 2001, Yale University Press published Nikitenko’s Up from Serfdom. My Childhood and Youth in Russia, 1804-1824 as translated by Helen Saltz Jacobson. Some pages of this can be read at Amazon.

A dozen of so years after Nikitenko’s death, in 1888-1992, a diary he had kept throughout his adult life was published in three volumes. An English edition, abridged, edited and translated by Jacobson, was brought out in 1975 by University of Massachusetts Press as The Diary of a Russian Censor. This can be previewed at Googlebooks. The Saint Petersburg Encyclopaedia says of the diary that it provides ‘a unique and valuable source for the study of the history of Russian society, literature and culture’. Here are two extracts, from the English translation, written as Nikitenko was reflecting on whether to accept an offer to join the central censorship department.

20 February 1859
‘The minister of education summoned me for a talk. I arrived at 1 o’clock.

“The matter of your appointment to the Press Committee,” the minister said to me, “has taken a rather serious and delicate turn. The emperor has expressed his desire for your appointment, and now I am conveying his wish to you. Count Adlerberg has informed me about it.”

“Yes,” I replied, “this really puts me in an awkward position. I am prepared to undertake any kind of work which would offer at least some hope for a cause which means so much to me as learning and literature. But if this committee was created for the moral supervision of literature, as its members claim it was, there are no grounds for its existence and it doesn’t have a leg to stand on. If it is going to turn into a secret committee, it is standing on muddy ground and I don’t want to soil myself on it.”

We talked about it for a long time and finally I promised Evgraf Petrovich that I would try my best to change this whole situation for the better.

While we were discussing this, Mukhanov arrived, and I immediately got involved in a conversation with him on this issue.

Mukhanov tried to prove to me that the committee had no reactionary intentions; that it did not have anything in common with the Committee of April 2; that the emperor was certainly not interested in creating a similar apparatus.

“Personally, Your Excellency,” I replied, “I am not worried about it becoming another Committee of April 2, because I think that’s impossible. I consider the very thought of it repugnant to the spirit of our times as well as an insult to our enlightened emperor. But I can’t hide the fact from you that the public is very prejudiced against this new committee.” ’

26 February 1859
‘All week I’ve been busy thinking about the proposal to join the committee and have been involved in discussions with them about it. I was invited to a meeting on Monday, the 23rd, where I came face to face with Count Adlerberg, Timashev and Mukhanov.

I was received very courteously, particularly by Count Adlerberg. I had made up my mind to express frankly both my convictions and my views on the committee, so they could decide for themselves whether I could participate in their affairs. They listened to me very attentively.

I told them of the public’s negative attitude toward the committee; that it considered it another April 2nd committee; that I personally considered it an impossibility today and thought their committee could not be either repressive or reactionary; that its sole function was to serve as an intermediary between literature and the emperor and to influence public opinion by getting the government’s views and aims across via the press in much the same way as literature did by bringing its ideas to the public.

They took all this very well. Then I added that if I were to sit on the committee, it would have to be with the right to vote. It was decided that I would give them a memorandum containing the gist of my remarks and that I would bring it with me on Thursday.

Today, Thursday, I read my memorandum to them in which I outlined my ideas in greater detail. Enlarging upon the thesis that literature did not nurture any revolutionary schemes, I took the position that there wasn’t the slightest reason to take repressive measures against it; that ordinary censorship measures were completely adequate; that literature couldn’t and shouldn’t be restrained by administrative measures; and that, perhaps, the committee should limit itself, according to the emperor’s wishes, to keeping a watchful eye on the mood of the public and to guiding public opinion, rather than literature, on to the right path.

I forgot to mention that, on Monday, after my discussion with the committee, I went to see the minister and told him that I was demanding voting rights. He completely supported my demand and tried to persuade me to accept the position of administrative director of the committee on that condition, since the voting right would put me in a position where I could undoubtedly be a force for good.

He also told me that, on Sunday, at the ball, he had spoken to the emperor about me and referred to me as one, who, in his opinion, could be more useful on the committee than anyone else. The emperor turned to Adlerberg and said: “Hear that, Aleksandr?” Earlier, too, while the committee was being formed, the minister had proposed my name for membership along with the names of Vyazemsky, Tyutchev, Pletnyov, and E. P. Kovalevsky (his brother).

After all this my memorandum was accepted, and tomorrow a report goes to the emperor. The die is cast. I am now embarking on a new career in public service. I shall certainly encounter difficulties - and enormous ones, too. But it would be wrong and dishonest of me to evade them, to refuse to do my part. There will be a great deal of gossip. Perhaps many will reproach me because I, with my spotless reputation, have decided to sit on a tribunal which is considered repressive. But that’s exactly the point, gentlemen. I want to stifle its appetite for repression. If I can work effectively - fine. If I can’t. I’ll leave.

In any case, I am absolutely determined to fight to the bitter end against repressive measures. But, at the same time, I am convinced that literature ought not to sever all its ties with the government and assume a hostile stance. If I am right, then it is incumbent on one of us to hold on to this tie and to assume the role, so to say, of a connecting link. I shall try to be that link.

Perhaps I shall succeed in convincing the committee that it must approach this sort of business in broad statesmanlike fashion; that it should not war with ideas, with literature, or with anything at all, because it is not a clique but a public figure; that it should not irritate people; that it has an enormous responsibility toward Russia, the emperor and posterity, and that because of this responsibility, it must not get involved in petty literary squabbles, but should look beyond all that and view literature as a social force which can do a great deal of good for society. Yes, I shall assume this new responsibility, if I am given the right to vote. Tyutchev, Goncharov, and Lyuboshchinsky warmly endorse my decision.

I think even the committee understood the purity of my intentions. Not a word was mentioned there about any kind of benefits or rewards. As far as salary is concerned, I shall be satisfied with the first figure to be named. As far as my other activities are concerned, it goes without saying that I shall have to curtail them.’

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Panic & muddleheadness

‘Think how the whole world wd be changed for me if I could get on with this novel, even though at no higher level than the present. I see that it was infinitely better to write The Beating, mediocre as that was, than to write nothing. But what’s holding me up anyway? Panic & muddleheadness. I must face up to the thing again with confident determination, with willingness instead of revulsion.’ This is from the private (and unpublished) diaries of Edward Falaise Upward, a British teacher and writer who died 10 years ago today, aged 105. He was part of the Auden generation in the 30s, producing poetry and surrealist stories, but then he lost his way, barely producing any work for decades. It was only after retiring that he produced his main work, The Spiral Ascent, an autobiographical trilogy. Soon after his death, his sister donated a lifetime’s worth of his diaries to the British Library. They document, in excruciating detail, the depths his literary and political angst.

Upward was born in 1903, in Romford, a large town now part of Greater London. His father was a doctor, and his mother a nurse. Aged 14 or so, he was sent to Repton School, where he 
published his writing in the school magazine and became a close friend of Christopher Isherwood. He moved on to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, reading history and then English. Isherwood, too, went to Cambridge, and together they created the fictional and surreal town of Mortmere, a vehicle for parodying the upper-classes. Upward’s poem Buddha won him the prestigious annual Cambridge poetry prize, the Chancellor’s Gold Medal.

On leaving Cambridge, Upward took up teaching, with posts at various schools, only settling in 1932 when employed as an English master at Alleyn’s School, Dulwich, where he remained until his retirement. In 1932, he joined the Communist Party, and took part in a delegation visiting the Soviet Union. He also visited Isherwood and Stephen Spender in Berlin. In 1936, he married Hilda Percival, a fellow teacher and Communist. They had two children. Although they remained committed to socialism, they left the Communist Party in 1948, frustrated that it was trying to appease the Labour government, and was no longer revolutionary.

Upward published his first novel, Journey to the Border (Hogarth Press) in 1938. Full of poetic prose, it describes the rebellion of a private tutor against his employer and a nightmarish state, concluding with the idea that he must join the workers’ movement. Subsequently, he found it very difficult to write anything else. In 1952-1953, he took a sabbatical from teaching in order to focus on his writing, but fell into a cycle of depression. Having concluded grotesque and fantastical fiction was inappropriate in a post-Holocaust world, he destroyed most of his Montmere stories.

By the mid-1950s, Upward was writing again, and soon after his retirement (to the Isle of Wight) in 1961, he published In the Thirties, the first part of a autobiographical trilogy, The Spiral Ascent, that would take him until 1977 to complete (with The Rotten Elements and No Home but the Struggle). It tells of a poet’s efforts to be creative and politically committed, and ends, in the third volume, with the poet finding new meaning by joining the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and being able to write again. In old age, he returned to writing short stories which were published, along with reprints of his novels, by Enitharmon Press. In 2005, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and awarded its Benson Medal. He died on 13 February 2009, aged 105, having been Britain’s oldest living author. Further information on Upward, as well as free-to-download pdfs of his books and poems can be found at the Edward Upward website. See also Wikipedia, The Guardian obituary, and The New York Times obituary.

Upward was a keen diarist, and he left behind a large number of journals (76 notebooks), many if not most full of his small cramped hand-writing. These were donated by his daughter to the British Library soon after his death in 2009. The British Library provides this description of its holdings: ‘A continuous run of journals, preoccupied in the main with Upward’s progress (and frustrations) as a writer. The journals record the planning and development of Upward’s novels in terms of plot and characterisation, and also record the psychological journey of their writing. The journals are not diaries as such, and therefore sometimes omit to record aspects of Upward’s life that diaries would usually include, but they record vividly the course of Upward’s inner life and particularly his determination to complete The Spiral Ascent.’

None of the journals have been published, even in part, although at least one biography quotes from them briefly: Edward Upward and Left-Wing Literary Culture in Britain edited by Benjamin Kohlmann (see Googlebooks). However, the 76 notebooks are available for public inspection at the British Library, and I have transcribed the following extracts from three of them. In particular, the extracts from 1952 show the extent of his encroaching depression, although, in fact, his feelings then seem to echo those he had been having for many years (as shown by the extracts below).

1 September 1936
‘In eight days I shall be thirty three. And I have not yet written a book.

A vile dog is basking in the next door garden.

I must get on with my work.

The pt is that the sp people are quite expensively dressed but their dress does suggest expense. Neither deliberately unassertive nor assertive.’

2 September 1936
‘Moments like last night that the B.L. is good make all my worries worth while. These can be rather compensative, no other satisfaction compares with such moments.

My life and my writing - what is the connection between them?

I ought to give my whole life to writing, but capitalism prevents me. Writing is the highest form of my fight, of my defiance.

Only writing whose content is anti-capitalist can be good.’

1 February 1944
‘Firewatching in the porter’s office office to-night. The rat-holed dado. String and keys and the bucket filled with damp coal dust. The coal-hole in the gothic turret. But my eye is stale. The complex telephone apparatus.

Prattle less in this book, if only to save paper. Think more.

Wd last night in the lab hut told of how he had been negotiating to buy the land on which it stands. The Co-op would not lend him the money but the Midland bank did. He is tenacious, pessimistic only in words. He got the hut against the opposition of most of his party. Now they hold the Fylde Divisional meetings there.

The substance of the sequel has I think passed the test. The problem now is the beginning.

Postage stamp the theme of the book. Imagination is needed to help action. But imagination is suspect because in the past it led away from action. But the present imagination is justified because it shows the faults of past imagination and shows the prime necessity for action.

Now don’t repeat that everywhere in this journal. It’s correct and the book must stand or fall by it.

If at the beginning he knows that imagination is needed then there’s no justification for the book.

“If only I cd use my imagination as I did in the past - but do so legitimately.”

He knows he wants to use his imagination; but he doesn’t know that he wd be justified in using it (i.e. that action needs it)?

Is that the initial position?’

15 June 1944
‘If only I cd write - then I’d put up with most things - my job for instance.

I want to write. But why? Simply because it is the only way I can justify my existence. Only when I am writing am I fully alive. Everything cd be borne if I had writing in hand which I felt was really worthwhile. And what is that constitutes worthwhileness in writing? I know it when I see it. Solidity, depth, feeling. Above all reality. But not my reality.

Something in the form of an essay, dealing not only with ideas but with places & persons. De Quincy.’

24 December 1952
‘Think how the whole world wd be changed for me if I could get on with this novel, even though at no higher level than the present. I see that it was infinitely better to write The Beating, mediocre as that was, than to write nothing. But what’s holding me up anyway? Panic & muddleheadness. I must face up to the thing again with confident determination, with willingness instead of revulsion.’

27 December 1952 [Last but one entry of ‘Journal of the Sabbatical Year’]
‘The only reason I am not in ill thoughts at present is that I’m not attempting to write the novel.

Is it worth writing something that one knows to be poor stuff? Possibly, for practice and in the tenuous hope that one day one will be able to write satisfactorily.

I’ve got to see this novel as in some way attractive, or I shall never write it? But I shall never see it as something attractive. Therefore I can only write it from a sense of duty.

There’s not one scene throughout the whole book that attracts me. Why? Because I have lost faith in the world of imagination.

I fool myself if I think that “the whole world wd be changed for me” if I could get on with the novel. Probably it wd make me feel even worse than quiescence.

What should I do? The best thing to do wd be to go on struggling, if only sanity will stand up to that. It’s the uncontrollable misery of the struggle that I fear.

Try common sense. Here I am with eight free months before me. I have started the novel for which I obtained a year’s leave of absence from teaching. The novel is, so far, poor stuff, and doesn’t look like getting any better, in fact it might well get worse. Shall I abandon it? Against such a line of action (inaction) there are several objections. 1) It’s a surrender and admission of failure. 2) What shd I do with my time? But on the other hand there are objections to continuing with the bk, the main one being that it makes me so miserable that I begin to fear for my sanity. A possible solution wd be to regard the novel as of no importance but to continue it as a daily task. But that wd be more miserable than anything.’

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Mother of the Revolution

Deolinda Rodríguez de Almeida, Mother of the (Angolan) Revolution, was born 80 years ago today. She was a gifted individual, a poet and translator, but circumstances led her to become a militant nationalist. She was a defender of human rights, but also an activist enabling women to play a role in the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). Aged only 29, she was captured, with others, by an opposing liberation movement, and tortured and murdered. She left behind a diary written during most of her adult years, although it was not edited and published until 2003.

Rodríguez was born in Catete on 10 February 1939 into a Methodist family. Her parents were teachers, and she was educated at Methodist missionary schools. In 1956, she joined the MPLA as a translator. She won a scholarship to study sociology at Methodist University of São Paulo; and from there, in 1959, she exchanged correspondence with Martin Luther King. Fearing political problems in Brazil (because of her support for growing Angolan independence movement), she moved to the United States, where she studied at Drew University. However, in 1961, before concluding her studies she returned to Angola. She took part in an MPLA attack on São Miguel fortress prison and police headquarters in Luanda at the start of, what would be known as, the Portuguese Colonial War.

Rodríguez traveled to Guinea-Bissau and Congo Kinshasa, where she helped found the women’s division of the MPLA (Organização da Mulher de Angola - OMA). She underwent guerrilla training in Kabinda. Back in Angola in 1962, she emerged as a revolutionary leader and activist, but also campaigning for human rights. Later, she was given the honorary title of ‘Mother of the Revolution’. She was also associated with the Corpo Voluntário Angolano de Assistência aos Refugiados.

The following year Rodríguez and the rest of the MPLA leadership were expelled from Angola. They fled to Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo, and then to Cabinda, an Angolan province within Congo. There, fighting intensified, and in 1967, she and four other members of OMA were captured by Holden Roberto’s National Liberation Front of Angola. They were tortured, dismembered and killed in a Zaire prison. The date of Rodríguez’s death, 2 March, came to be celebrated as Angola’s Women’s Day. A little further information is available at Wikivisually, Bookshy books, and in Immortal Heroes Of The World by M S Gill (at Googlebooks).

Deolinda left behind a diary - a rarity in African cultures -  that she had kept from 1956 to 1967. This was edited by her brother, Roberto de Almeida, and published first in 2003 (with an updated second edition in 2018). The book is titled Diário de um exílio sem regresso (Diary of an Exile without Return), and includes a letter sent by Martin Luther King to Deolinda. A short article about the book can be found in the Portuguese language Journal de Angola, and there is a film, 
based on the diaries, available at YouTube (from which I’ve taken two screenshots). In 2017, Roberto de Almeida handed over his sister’s diaries and letters to MAAN, the Memorial Dr. António Agostinho Neto in Luanda. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any extracts of the diary, in English or Portuguese.

Friday, February 8, 2019

John Ruskin’s birthdays

Today is the double centenary of the birth of John Ruskin, one of the greatest art and social commentators of the Victorian period in Britain. He was a man of many talents, also producing paintings and poems, and a diary which he kept for most of his life. Although many of the entries are fairly brief and even mundane (about the weather), there are plenty with interesting observations about society, architecture, nature and art.

Ruskin was born in London on 8 February 1819, the son of a wine merchant. His family moved to Herne Hill when he was but four, and to Dulwich when he was 20. In 1836, he began studying at Christ Church, Oxford University, and, while still in his early 20s, travelled with his parents to Italy and Switzerland. Thanks to funding by his father, Ruskin was able to indulge a passion for collecting art, in particular the paintings of Turner.

Aged only 24, Ruskin published Modern Painters, an important and controversial work arguing that modern landscape painters - and in particular Turner - were superior to the so-called Old Masters of the post-Renaissance period. Further volumes followed. In 1848, he married Euphemia Chalmers Gray, the daughter of friends of his parents, but the marriage did not last long. In the early 1850s, Ruskin became involved with the Pre-Raphaelites, one of whom, John Everett Millais, married Euphemia (after her marriage with Ruskin was annulled).

Ruskin went on to write many important and influential books, such as The Seven Lamps of Architecture. He became a great advocate for the Gothic style, and an opponent of the debasing effects of the industrial revolution. In the 1860s, he had a calamitous affair with a very young Irish girl, Rose La Touche, which dragged on until she died in 1875. In 1869, he was elected the first Slade Professor of Art at Oxford University, and achieved some success as a lecturer. He resigned his post after ten years, and, thereafter, was subject to more frequent bouts of the mental illness that had beset him through much of his life.

After the death of his parents, and for the last 30 years of his life, Ruskin’s main residence was at Brantwood, in the Lake District, which is where he died a few days after the start of the 20th century. Further information is available from Wikipedia, The Victorian Web, The Ruskin Society, The Ruskin Museum or Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Ruskin’s diary, covering most of the timespan of his adult life, was published around 60 years ago (1956-1959) in three volumes by Clarendon Press (1835-1847, 1848-1873, 1874-1889). The entries for the book - The Diaries of John Ruskin - were selected and edited by Joan Evans and John Howard Whitehouse. They also included a good number of Ruskin’s small sketches which accompany some of the diary entries, of landscapes, nature or architecture. Some years later, in 1971, Yale University Press published The Brantwood Diary of John Ruskin. This was based on some of Ruskin’s diaries, written while living at Brantwood, which had not been made available to Evans and Whitehouse. The Victorian Web has an informative review of The Brantwood Diary, and quotes from the diary itself. And the second volume of the Clarendon edition of the diaries is freely available online at Internet Archive thanks to Digital Library of India.

Meanwhile, here are some extracts form Ruskin’s diary taken from the Clarendon Press volume 2. The first, when Ruskin was 30, is representative of the more interesting parts of his diary. When he was abroad he sometimes wrote long entries, but at home and later in his life, there were often long gaps in his diary, and the majority of entries he did make were short, a sentence or two. I have included a selection of entries written on his birthdays, including the one for his 50th birthday, in 1869, which is rather maudlin.

3 June 1849
‘I walked up this afternoon to Bloney, very happy, and yet full of some sad thought; how perhaps I should not be again among these lovely scenes; as I was now and ever had been, a youth with his parents - it seemed that the sunset of to-day sunk upon me like the departure of youth.

First I had a hot march among the vines, and between their dead stone walls. Once or twice I flagged a little, and began to think it tiresome; then I put my mind into the scene, instead of suffering the body only to make report of it; and looked at it with the possession-taking grasp of the imagination - the true one; it gilded all the dead walls, and I felt a charm in every vine tendril that hung over them. It required an effort to maintain the feeling; it was poetry while it lasted, and I felt that it was only while under it that one could draw, or invent, or give glory to, any part of such a landscape. I repeated, ‘I am in Switzerland’ over and over again, till the name brought back the true group of associations, and I felt I had a soul, like my boy’s soul, once again. I have not insisted enough on this source of all great contemplative art. The whole scene without it was but sticks and stones and steep dusty road.’

2 June 1853
‘Sunday. Walking home from Dr. Cumming’s through Holborn and Oxford Street, note shops open: nearly all tobacco and cigar shops: tobacco pipe shops: small confectioners selling ginger beer - large confectioners modestly, and in sly corners of shutters; taverns of all kinds and eating houses.’

31 January 1854
‘To Mr. Melville’s. Wrote a little. Numbered Chamouni drawings. Quiet evening writing Giotto. Summary of month: nearly got Giotto done; Mr. Brown’s MS. a little, 13 pages only of Modern Painters, but house quite in order and everything set going, and a great deal done in learning MS. at Brit[ish] museum.’

8 February 1854
‘Began description of valley of Chamouni and finished my rocks at Glen Finlas [in the Ashmolean Museum]. Went up with Sophy to Mr Griffiths and saw a wonderful Turner, of a Diligence deep in snow by moonlight and firelight [probably The Dover Mail]. . .’

13 February 1854
‘Monday. All day at British museum, drawing Hebrew ornament for my book binding - hardly anything done.’

8 February 1857
‘Hear Mr Spurgeon on ‘Cleanse thou me from secret faults’ - very wonderful.’

8 February 1858
‘Brilliant intensely, with hard frost’

8 February 1863
‘Walked lazily in pine wood, and to Regny chateau. Talked with peasant.’

8 February 1869
‘How utterly sad these last birthdays have been, in 67 and 68. I am not much better today, but in better element of work. Wild wind and dark morning. I proceed to botanize.’

8 February 1872
‘Oxford, Corpus Christi College. Came into my rooms last night, after a lovely walk on Seven Bridge Road.’

8 February 1873
‘The sun does not rise by ten minutes, her to that time, we so westing, and the days last already till full six, with long twilights.

Yesterday glorious walk in snow to the tarn in hollow - Goat’s water - and not in the least touched with fatigue by a mile’s row and six mile’s walk up sixteen hundred feet; and write this and my Greek notes at 7 in the morning, sans spectacles. . . I must try to make my daily life more perfect as I grow old.’

16 April 1873
‘Wednesday. Y[esterday] a hot, thunderous day. I very languid and ill, hearing from Joanna of her mother’s death. My work all hanging fire sadly.

Primroses and periwinkles a great comfort.

Dreamed last night that I saw my Fluelen Turner blown down a steep bank into the sea; that I woke from my dream and said what a relief it was to find it was only a dream; that nevertheless I might as well go down to look at the sea; and there, sure enough, was my Turner floating in it, in its frame. When I took it out, the salt was crystallized all over the picture, moist, and I could not think how to wash it off, or carry the picture - for we were travelling. I was announcing my misfortune to my father, when I woke in reality.

Plagued also with letters from madmen and fools, whom I am mad and foolish enough to try to mend.’ 

This article is a revised version of one first published 10 years ago on 8 January 2009.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Montagu and the Indian tiger

‘When they came after the tiger, throwing at it hand grenades, firing blank cartridges, and so forth, in order to move it and prevent it charging back, flying foxes were disturbed from the trees, peacocks moved backwards and forwards, parrots flew about; four sambhur passed before my first shot at the tiger, but I am afraid I did not see them. It is a very artificial form of sport, but it gave me sufficient thrill to last me a lifetime.’ This is Edwin Montagu, an early 20th century British Liberal politician born 140 years ago today, best remembered for his stint as Secretary of State for India, or perhaps for his marriage to Venetia. Though the marriage was one of social convenience (she had had an illegitimate child beforehand, and continued to have affairs after), they remained together throughout Montagu’s short life; and it was Venetia that edited Montagu’s India diaries for publication.

Montagu was born in London to Samuel Montagu, 1st Baron Swaythling, a rich banker and his Jewish wife Ellen, on 6 February 1879. He was educated at Clifton College boarding school and the City of London School before studying biology at University College London and Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1902, he was elected president of the Cambridge Union. The following year he joined a firm of solicitors, but was soon more interested in politics than the law. He became friends with Raymond Asquith, son of H. H. Asquith, and was recruited as a speaker for the Liberal Party. Then, in the 1906 general election, he was elected Member of Parliament for Chesterton. Asquith, who was made Chancellor of the Exchequer, appointed Montagu as his parliamentary private secretary.

In 1910, Asquith, by now Prime Minister, promoted Montagu to the post of Under-Secretary of State for India, to Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and then to Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (with a seat in the Cabinet). In 1915, he was sworn of the Privy Council, and a year later was appointed Minister of Munitions. Although initially left out of David Lloyd George’s coalition government at the end of 1916, he was appointed Secretary of State for India in mid-1917, a position he had sought, and which he then held until 1922. Wikipedia says, he was primarily responsible for the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms which led to the Government of India Act 1919, committing the British to the eventual evolution of India towards dominion status.

In 1915, Montagu married Venetia Stanley, a friend of Asquith’s daughter, after she had converted to Judaism. For several years prior to the marriage, she had been courted by Asquith as well as Montagu. The union was not a conventional one (Venetia had several affairs); it did however produce one daughter, though historians believe Montagu was not the father. A 2012 book, Bobbie Neate’s Conspiracy of Secrets, suggests that the marriage was one of social convenience, to cover Montagu’s homosexuality, and Venetia’s earlier affair with Asquith (which had produced an illegitimate child - Louis Stanley, who was Neate’s stepfather). Montagu is also remembered for his strident anti-zionist stance, and his opposition to the Balfour Declaration of 1917 (for more on this see How I saved the Balfour papers!). Montagu lost his seat in the 1922 general election which delivered a landslide for the Conservatives. He died soon after, in 1924, aged only 45, from an unknown cause. Further information is available at Wikipedia, Liberal History, Spartacus, or the Zionism website.

From his first day on the sub-continent as Secretary of State for India - having arrived in Bombay in late 1917 - Montagu kept a detailed diary. His main purpose was to keep the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, informed of his progress: batches of his diary were regularly sent back to London by mail. After his death, Montagu’s wife, Venetia, edited the diary which was published by William Heinemann in 1930 as An Indian Diary (freely available at Internet Archive). In a short preface, Venetia explains: ‘Now that India is looming so largely in the public eye, I have thought it a fitting time to give this document to the world, hoping that it may help to make a little clearer the great part which the writer played in India’s destinies.’ ‘When he resigned in 1922,’ she adds, ‘he seemed, in saying good-bye to his work for India, to lose the greater part of his interest in life; he was never the same man again.’

The diary was dictated to a secretary ‘at all times and places, sometimes on the back of an elephant, miles out in the jungle’. These week-end shooting trips, Venetia says, ‘were the only way by which he could save himself from a severe breakdown, which indeed continually threatened him’. She continues: ‘Whether he was the guest of honour at a vast tiger-shoot, with 1,500 beaters in a Native State, or standing up to his waist in water for the chance of bagging a few couple of snipe, he was able for the moment to forget his troubles, which had usually redoubled themselves by the time the train steamed into Delhi on each successive Black Monday morning.’ She concludes: ‘I hope that the publication of this diary may [. . .] throw some light on an extraordinarily complex personality whom the great world never understood, but his intimate friends and colleagues knew to be passionately sincere and generous to a fault.’

Naomi B. Levine, in her biography Politics, Religion, and Love: The Story of H. H. Asquith, Venetia Stanley, and Edwin Montagu, rates Montagu’s diary highly. ‘[It] was more than a travelogue and a description of sunsets, flame trees, panther shoots and wild birds. Its chief importance lies in its political observations and warnings. The language of the diary was often sharp and brutally frank and included Montagu’s evaluation of the Indian Civil Service, the military, the police, the Viceroy and the Council, Muslims and Hindus, the abject poverty that existed side by side with the extraordinary luxury of the British raj and the Indian ruling classes and the attitude of the Muslims to Turkey. Most importantly, the diary was a condemnation of British snobbery and racism and the hostility it was creating among educated Indians, which Montagu correctly foresaw as encouraging extremism and ultimately destroying British rule.’

Here are several extracts.

18 November 1917.
‘Lord Chelmsford, Maffey and I left last night at a quarter to eleven for Gagrania. We slept in the train, had an early breakfast, and an excellent but very hard day’s snipe shooting. Net result, thirty-five brace. I think we all shot very well, considering it was very hot and we were up to our knees in water, having to pull our legs each time out of the mud, so that by half-past three we were all exhausted, Chelmsford and I physically, and Maffey being unable to shoot straight. It was a jolly, long gheel completely overgrown - the old bed of the Jumna. All the arrangements, including the carriage to drive five miles, and the bullock wagons, three, to drive one, had been made by a little local Nawab. Bitterns, demoiselle cranes, marsh harriers, fish eagles, big white-breasted blue kingfisher, a jackal, seven sisters, sparrow hawks, shrikes, innumerable doves were the chief birds we saw, and one cattle egret and a large heron. Two of the snipe were painted, and there was a large proportion of jacks in the morning.

The day was by no means wasted. I got far closer to Chelmsford than I have ever got before. I like him better than ever, but I cannot find any vigour or personality in him: great conscientiousness, eager desire for smooth running, complete armoury of consultation. He assured me that he was one of the majority of his Committee. He tells me that the Council were unanimous about Mrs. Besant. I am to see Tilak in a deputation, but not in an interview. He feels that the cross-examination which I submit people to is doing a lot of good. He seems hardening against the splitting of the Viceroyalty. I ventured to come closer to expressing the inadequacy of the Government of India scheme, but I would not express an opinion until I had seen my colleagues.

I forgot to record on Saturday night that we had just had the most depressing information that General Maude was critically ill with cholera. Just before leaving late on Saturday night we heard the news that he had taken a slight turn for the better. I gather that any improvement in cholera is usually hopeful.

We have just heard that General Maude died last night. It is a horrible tragedy at the most critical moment in the Mesopotamian trouble. After consultation with Lord Chelmsford, I felt that I should send a telegram to London suggesting that Sir Charles Munro should go at once to Mesopotamia, and that Kirkpatrick, whom Chelmsford assures me could carry on here, should act as Commander-in-Chicf, subject to the possibilities that the Acts of Parliament permit this arrangement. However, I saw Munro on Monday morning, and although he admits the advantage that he probably knew more intimately Maude’s plans than any other living man, he feels himself, with much regret, too old for Mesopotamia, and as he is very lame and looks very old, I think this is probably true. I hear to-night (Monday) that the War Office have appointed Marshall.’

3 December 1917
‘I suppose I must keep up this wretched practice, so boring to me, and so difficult to discharge efficiently, of recording my proceedings. I do not think I give a thought, waking, and, I fear, sometimes sleeping, to anything but Indian reforms, except for the hour a day which I try to keep for exercise. I read my papers before breakfast, and begin the serried series of deputations and memoranda, copies of which for yesterday and to-day are appended to these notes.

To-day began with four formal deputations. Here it is not necessary to go to a tent. We have a large room with two thrones on the first floor, the drawing-room at nighttime, and certainly under Gourlay’s management these formal deputations go very quickly.

One of these deputations was from the Anglo-Indian Association, which really repeated very much the same tale as we had heard from the All-India Association, this being the Bengal branch.

The other three were interesting. One was from the Bengal Chamber of Commerce, and contained the leaders of the great movement which so forcibly protested against my visit, headed by Sir Hugh Bray, all English; and another was the Calcutta Trades Association of retail traders, equally English and even more prejudiced. Sandwiched between them came the British Indian Association, a more or less conservative body, headed by the Maharajadhiraja Bahadur of Burdwan, the best type of conservative Indian.’

5 December 1917
‘To-day we have had the usual weary round - deputations from various Moslem bodies this morning, the Moslem Association, the Moslem League, and so on, and this afternoon we have had two deputations from Assam.

The Moslem Association pretends to be more conservative than the Moslem League, but submitted an appendix to its suggestions, which was really just as extreme. They were very nice people, and explained that we were to take no notice of the appendix, which really did not represent their views.

The Moslem League was very, very vehement, and I had a long and interesting argument - because he was a very intelligent man - with one of their members, Aminur Rahman, who is certainly very sincere, and does not see any of the difficulties of the Congress Moslem League scheme. He certainly helped me to come nearer to responsible government.’

4 January 1918
‘Breakfast at nine, and the start for the scene of slaughter at quarter to eleven. Twenty miles drive through typical Gwalior country, along dusty roads, with sparse bushes in the sandy and rocky desert. No wonder that it is a good country for tigers, because a tiger, wandering round this detestable and appalling country, finds a beautiful ravine, with water in it, luxuriant, with trees and thick jungle, and remains there; so you know where to look for him. We got to our meeting place, where there were horses and three elephants with howdahs to ride, a dandy in which anybody could be carried who wished it, a whole group of coolies, and a regiment of 400 soldiers to beat. I got on to an elephant and was hurtled over the rocks for about one and a half miles - a very uncomfortable elephant to sit on. Then we got down and walked on tiptoe into the ravine. Right across this ravine stretches a high wall, or rather two high walls, with a passage down in the ravine between them. In the very bottom of this ravine on the wall is a three-storied tower, at the top of which, sheltered partly by a stone awning, sit the guns. The middle story is occupied by a luncheon-room, and the lower story by a sort of cellar. Beyond the tower comes an interruption, and then a smaller wall going up the other side. We got into the tower very quietly and stood whilst the beat came up to us from the shorter side of the ravine. It came quietly, making no noise, and there was no tiger. Nothing appeared, save one peacock and some squirrels. Then we turned round and faced the other way. This time a longer drive took place, accompanied by what the Indians call - a name which we have borrowed - a hullabaloo. Tomtoms beat; there were great shouts and dreadful noises, so that the tiger should start a long way off and come quietly. Nothing had apparently been expected from the first drive; from the second drive great things were hoped for, because a buffalo had been killed on the top and dragged by the tiger down to the valley. It was not long after the beat started before, right in the middle of the ravine, and by some water, I saw the tiger coming out, walking very slowly, about 60 yards away from me - walking towards me, showing his left side at an angle of 45 degrees. I aimed as carefully as my excitement would let me, and had the satisfaction of seeing the tiger sit down on his hind legs, put his head right up, and then roll right over. Before I could get in another shot, however, he was off, crawling lop-sidedly, and leaving behind much blood. The beat was then stopped; the elephants were obtained, but nobody was allowed to go on them because they were notoriously unsteady, and there were reported to be bees in the jungle. They soon sighted the tiger going back towards the beaters. These were then removed, and Gwalior went round to join the beaters. What happened afterwards took almost till dark, but I gather that the tiger was seen crossing a ride towards us, turned by a shot by one of Gwalior’s staff, which missed it. He is not popular for this. He then charged an elephant which was sent for in the middle of the beat. The elephant bolted, and has not been seen since, but a man on the elephant, who was much hurt in the flight, succeeded in getting two shots at it, one of which hit it. It then, now severely wounded, charged a man, and I fear hurt him, but not badly, and was finally despatched lying in some water. It is a fine male tiger, 9 ft. 5 in. long, with a short tail. I do not know how one ought to have dealt with the matter; certainly things were much bungled after the tiger was wounded, I think because of the extraordinary, almost impenetrable, nature of the jungle and the fact that we had no tracker. However, I looked at its body. No shot could have been better than mine; it hit the tiger in exactly the right place. I cannot think why it did not kill it. I am not at all sure that I am happy about Laverton’s split bullets. However, the day was successful. I cannot help thinking about the man, about whom I am sure everything is all right.

We came home thoroughly tired with excitement; could hardly keep awake for dinner, and went to bed immediately afterwards, where I slept from ten to six without moving, a great deal for me.
When they came after the tiger, throwing at it hand grenades, firing blank cartridges, and so forth, in order to move it and prevent it charging back, flying foxes were disturbed from the trees, peacocks moved backwards and forwards, parrots flew about; four sambhur passed before my first shot at the tiger, but I am afraid I did not see them. It is a very artificial form of sport, but it gave me sufficient thrill to last me a lifetime.’

Breaking the speed laws

‘Taking full advantage of the downward slope and a lack of traffic, I push Mule along at a good clip. I figure I’ve now broken the speed laws in every state we’ve touched so far.’ This is Michael Joseph Farrell Jr. - 80 years old today - writing in a journal he kept while on a five week tour of the United States. He is best known for his role as Captain B. J. Hunnicutt in the long running American TV satire M*A*S*H. I doubt he would describe himself as a diarist, but he does keep journals when travelling, either for himself or for any organisation he’s representing at the time. Some of these are available online at the official Mike Farrell website (now archived).

Farrell, one of four children, was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on 6 February 1939, but after a couple of years the family moved to Hollywood where his father worked as a film studio carpenter. He was schooled locally, and then joined the United States Marine Corps serving at Camp Hansen, Okinawa. In 1963, he married the actress Judy Hayden, and they had two children. By the late 1960s, he was regularly working as an actor, for movies and television series, gaining ever more significant parts, such as a role in the soap Days of Our Lives. His big break came in 1975, when he was recruited for the fourth season of M*A*S*H to play the new role of B. J. Hunnicutt. He remained with the programme for the rest of its eight-year run, writing a handful of episodes, and directing another four.

Farrell went on to host several National Geographic Presents programmes, and to star in TV movies, including Memorial Day (which he co-produced). Having divorced Judy, he married another actress Shirley Fabares in 1984. In 1985, he joined up with television producer Marvin Mintoff to make, mostly, TV films, but also a few feature films. Their partnership lasted 25 years, until Mintoff’s death in 2009. He was elected first vice-president of the Screen Actor’s Guild in 2002 and served for three years. He has always been an active campaigner for various causes, not least for advancing human rights and opposing the death penalty. In 2004 he received the Donald Wright Award from California Attorneys for Criminal Justice. Further information is available form Wikipedia or from the official Mike Farrell website (though this is now archived and no longer being maintained).

When travelling, Farrell tends to keep a journal. His website explains: ‘Throughout the years Mike has been to many countries for organizations such as Concern America, the Committee on U.S./Central American Relations, Projects for Planetary Peace, Interreligious Committee for Peace in the Middle East, Human Rights Watch, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, The Christian Children’s Fund, Death Penalty Focus, and, the Center for International Policy. For each trip he has written a journal, either for personal purposes or to inform the organizations he’s travelled for, of the situation in the areas.’ Seven or eight of these journals (some are more notes or reflections than diaries) are available on the same website.

In 2007, Farrell published a first book, an autobiography Just Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and Activist. In May 2008, he undertook a long (five weeks, 9,000 miles) tour across the country to publicise the autobiography, but networking with political groups and friends as he went. He travelled alone in a rental car - a Prius nicknamed Mule - and kept a detailed diary of the whole trip. This led to his second book, published the following the year by Akashic Books as Of Mule and Man. Some pages can be previewed at Amazon and Googlebooks.

Here is one extract (reduced from the six pages of printed text).

16 May 2008
‘Up early again. Have to cover a lot of distance today and there’s a telephone interview to do first, this with a woman at the Iowa Press-Citizen, in anticipation of my arrival there (weeks from now, I assume).

The next gig is in Austin, Texas, almost 800 miles away, so I won’t plan to get there tonight, but want to take a good bite out of it in order to get into the city relatively early tomorrow. I’ve not been to Austin and am looking forward to it. I keep hearing that it’s the “Berkeley of Texas,” a bastion of liberalism in an otherwise conservative state.

With thanks to Bobby and Eugenie for their gracious hospitality I head back into Santa Fe, through the narrow lanes of that lovely town, and finally to U.S. Highway 285, which runs a pretty straight shot southeast to West Texas.

It’s beautiful heading down out of the highlands under a bright blue sky pebbled with cottony white clouds. Driving up from El Paso on Tuesday, the climb from Las Cruces to Santa Fe was so gradual as to not be obvious, but a climb it was. Like El Paso, Las Cruces is less than 4,000 feet above sea level (actually higher than I had thought), while Santa Fe is nearly 7,500, so Mule had work to do - and did it without complaint. It was a “beepless” day, thank heaven, without great panicky moments.

I filled up the tank in Taos last night despite the fact that I still had two squares showing on the gas gauge and could probably have easily made the sixty-five miles back down to Santa Fe, but since it was very dark and there wasn’t a lot of civilization until we got close to Bobby and Eugenie’s, I decided not to test Mule. And again this morning the gauge says it’s still full.

As we race southward the mesas become less prominent and the land flattens out. It’s interesting to watch the outside temperature rise (the one thing I can understand on the dash screen so full of complex diagrams and information) as our altitude falls. From the time we left Los Angeles and hit the desert, the outside temperature has been in the high nineties, only dropping into the high eighties in El Paso. Once we pushed up to Santa Fe it got into the sixties and fifties, dropping one morning into the forties, so having the connection between altitude and temperature spelled out before me is interesting. Taking full advantage of the downward slope and a lack of traffic, I push Mule along at a good clip. I figure I’ve now broken the speed laws in every state we’ve touched so far. [. . . several paragraphs follow about ‘President Stupid’ - George W. Bush]

Here we are in southeastern New Mexico, zipping along under the now-less-cloudy blue sky. The flat, scrub-covered land stretches as far as one can see on each side, and when I look to the left I note the entrance to a vast, fenced piece of property with a sign over the gate that reads, Victor Perez Ranch. When I say vast, I mean that the road under the gate runs straight away from the highway and disappears over the horizon without a single structure in sight. Somewhere off in the far distance beyond the edge of the earth I envision a huge, elaborate ranch house and attendant structures looking like something out of the movie Giant.

Considering this as we roll along gets me thinking about the whole idea of owning property. As a city boy from a working-class background, I know the satisfaction that comes from owning a home and a piece of property, but thinking of Victor Perez and his rancho, or people like the characters in Giant, or so many others with huge landholdings - the kind of acreage that makes one understand the use of the word “spread” - gives me pause. It brings to mind the Native American concept of living in harmony with the land, perhaps as a visitor, or as one who is granted a kind of stewardship over it because it cannot be owned, as such; one lives in partnership with it.

Closing in on the Texas border we pass through the New Mexican town of Encino. Unlike the wealthy San Fernando Valley community of the same name, this Encino (meaning evergreen or a kind of oak tree) is a shambles. A virtual ghost town, to say it has fallen on hard times is to understate it by miles. Shuttered stores, overgrown yards, huge weeds covering the front of what was once a filling station mark some kind of tragedy in the lives of the people who once resided here - and the few who perhaps still do. Very sad to see this; shocking, in a way. And, not to make Victor Perez out to be a villain, because he’s probably a nice man who worked hard for what he has, the disparity between some lives and others in this country is writ large for me in these two sets of circumstances.

Crossing into Texas the clouds have come together and turned gray. Soon there is a steady sprinkle on us that continues down to and through the town of Pecos, Home of the World’s First Rodeo, per the signs. And as we cross the Pecos River I note that Mule and I are no longer “west of the Pecos.” [There follows a lengthy anecdote - inc. a conversation with the Mule - about nearly running out of petrol.]’