Saturday, May 25, 2019

Diary briefs

Diary of a ‘Monuments Man’ - National Archives (press release, blog)

Kafka papers to be released - The Guardian, The Telegraph

A. K. Ramanujan’s diaries -, The Weekend Leader

Diary of Livingstone’s attendant digitised - Livingstone Online, Smithsonian, The Guardian

Maid planned murder of employer - The Independent Singapore, Today Online

Diary of Dutch founding father - Museum Flehite, The Guardian

The diaries of Esther Lilly Hundley - Gales Creek Journal

Piccolo player’s tour of China - The Inquirer

Israeli defence chief’s diary released - The Jerusalem Post

Monday, May 20, 2019

Wondering how I should live

‘I went on reading novels, poetry and biography as voraciously as ever but I also devoured the floods of pamphlets and booklets the feminist presses turned out, devoting many pages of my diary to reflecting on all these new ideas, to wondering how I should live. Sometimes rather pompously and priggishly, I am afraid.’ This is from a memoir by the British feminist writer Michèle Roberts, 70 years old today. Happy Birthday. In the memoir - Paper Houses - Roberts occasionally writes about her diaries, and how she used them (as in this extract); but she also quotes from them now and then.

Roberts was born on 20 May 1949, minutes after her twin sister Marguerite, to a French mother and an English father. She grew up in a suburb of northwest London, attending convent schools and spending summer holidays in Normandy with grandparents. She read English at Somerville, Oxford, and then studied to become a librarian. She spent a year working for the British Council in Southeast Asia. Back in London, she became very involved in the Women’s Liberation Movement, and was poetry editor for Spare Rib, and then for City Limits. Her first novel, A Piece of the Night, was published in 1978. Further novels followed every year or two, but she continued to do various part-time jobs to earn money. Only after 1992, when her novel Daughters of the House was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, was she able to focus exclusively on writing.

Roberts has married twice, and has two step-sons. She has lived in Italy and North America, but bought her first house in France. She now alternates between France (Mayenne) and London, and spends time at the University of East Anglia where she is Emeritus Professor of Creative Writing. Apart from novels, she has also published collections of short stories and poetry. She is a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, awarded by the French government, but has turned down an OBE because of her republican views. Further biographical information is available at Roberts’ own website, Wikipedia, the British Council, or Aesthetica.

In 2007, Virago published Roberts’ Paper Houses: A memoir of the ’70s and beyond. The publisher states: ‘Michèle Roberts, one of Britain’s most talented and highly acclaimed novelists, now considers her own life, in this vibrant, powerful portrait of a time and place: alternative London of the 1970s and beyond. A fledgling writer taking a leap into radical politics, Roberts finds alternative homes, new families and lifelong friendships in the streets and houses of Holloway, Peckham, Regent’s Park and Notting Hill Gate. From Spare Rib to publishing her first book, Paper Houses is Roberts’ story of finding a space in which to live, love and write – and learning to share it.’ A few pages can be sampled at Amazon or Googlelooks, and a review can be found at The Guardian.

Here is Roberts concluding her introduction to the memoir: ‘This memoir draws on the diaries I kept, on those written records scrawled in notebooks specially bought for the purpose, each notebook different and distinctive. When I spread them out on the floor of the room where I write they look like the multicoloured pavement of a piazza. This memoir is like fiction, in as much as I have shaped and edited it, but it is as truthful as I can make it, honouring both facts and the way I saw them at the time. On the other hand I know that memory, under pressure from the unconscious mind, is unreliable; and I have forgotten a lot. Out of consideration for others’ privacy, I’ve been obliged to censor some episodes. I have left out some characters, some lovers and love affairs, and I have changed some names. I don’t want to bore you, and I don’t want to hurt people, either. I have tried to be honest.’

And here are several extracts from the book in which she mentions or quotes from her diaries (the first is from the very start of chapter one).

‘I prepared for my new life, post university, in London, by buying a new notebook, a midi-skirt (after years of minis it felt daring to conceal one’s legs) and a fake-snakeskin nightdress, and by borrowing from the library a clutch of books chosen “for the first time in ages purely for pleasure” as I noted in my diary, novels by Mauriac, Gide, Sartre and Lawrence. Having chosen the medieval option for my degree, I had stopped at Shakespeare. I had some catching up to do but could do it at my own pace, my own speed. Bliss.’


‘On Sunday 13 September, 1970, I moved into my attic bedsit in a house on the northern edge of Regent’s Park, a classy, genteel district just east of Lord’s Cricket Ground and just south of St John’s Wood, the latter synonymous with discreetly shaded villas in which Victorian gents, in Victorian novels at least, kept their mistresses. The week before I had had lunch with Ernestine, my prospective landlady, whom I had met through her godson Joss, one of my Oxford acquaintances. I had first seen the house, all understated Regency elegance, the previous February, when Ernestine threw a party for Joss’s twenty-first. “A tall thin slice of wedding-cake” I called it in my diary: “on different tiers one drank champagne, ate salmon, danced, and right at the top, talked to a sexy 60-year-old Frenchman who eventually introduced me to his wife and sat and laughed as we talked about Simone de Beauvoir.” ’


‘Who was that ‘I’, that young woman of twenty-one? I reconstruct her. I invent a new ‘me’ composed of the girl I was, according to my diaries, my memories (and the gaps between them), and the self remembering her. She stands in between the two. A third term. She’s a character in my story and she tells it too. She’s like a daughter. Looking back at her, thinking about her, I mother myself. I listen hard to her silences, the gaps between her words, the cries battened down underneath the surface of her sentences. I sympathise with her ardour, her desperation to read, to learn how to think, to contribute something to the world. How tender, amused and exasperated I feel towards her snobbery, shyness, self-consciousness, priggishness, guilt. She writes her diary so self-critically, suffers so much, berates herself so harshly for suffering and then for writing about it. When she’s not rhapsodising about books and nature she’s fierce, intolerant of adults’ intolerance of youth, enraged when she feels patronised. She wants adventures. She has come to London, in the time-honoured way, to have them. Not to make her fortune, though. She scorns that. She intends to become a writer, is determined to publish a novel before she is thirty, and she expects to be poor.’


‘My early writing experiments contained many caricatures. Mocking a left-wing family let me stay away from involvement. Yet that overnight stay in Stoke Newington, after Joss’s party, had given me rapturous glimpses of a London I did not yet know and longed to explore. I sketched it in my diary: “We went to the Rodin exhibition at the Hayward. Driving through London on Sunday morning - empty streets, an old man comes out of a corner shop with a bottle of Corona, a line of hoardings gives way to a fence made of brightly painted blue wooden doors, mountains of earth have been dumped until Monday, drizzle over the Thames from the top of all the concrete at the Festival Hall. Beautiful place in this weather: lucky people who can wander there in the empty silence every Sunday, pass across the far horizon in Hyde Park, look at paintings as far as Notting Hill, walk round the deserted City, find a cafe for lunch.”


‘I met Alison, my sexual mentor, at the second Women’s Liberation Conference at Ruskin, Oxford, on 9 January 1971. [. . .] After a morning of workshops on different topics, over lunch we talked collectively, vociferously, about our demands for equal pay and opportunities and good childcare. I wondered about the women canteen workers: serving us, they were not able to take part in the conference. I wrote “four grim Maoists, so narrow and ultra-serious and closed-off they made one despair”. We had discussed the forthcoming first-ever women’s liberation demonstration; its form, its tactics.’


‘So ultra-idealistic had I become, politically, that Spare Rib seemed quite tame and middle-of-the-road to me. One of its editors, Rosie Parker, was actually married. Heavens above! My disapproval masked envy: I imagined she had a man to help her, whereas I struggled alone and was very hard up. But Spare Rib sold well and was popular, reaching women who wouldn’t have dreamed of reading Red Rag, let alone all the small magazines rolled off duplicating machines (a long-winded, messy procedure) and distributed at meetings and in pubs. For my part I refused to read the Morning Star, the Communist paper, because I thought it merely reformist, and I wouldn’t touch the Socialist Worker newspaper because Tony Cliff had refused to allow women in his party to organise independently. I went on reading novels, poetry and biography as voraciously as ever but I also devoured the floods of pamphlets and booklets the feminist presses turned out, devoting many pages of my diary to reflecting on all these new ideas, to wondering how I should live. Sometimes rather pompously and priggishly, I am afraid. That seems to have been my way of smoothing over the contradictions between theory and practice. They were supposed to be dialectically related. I didn’t always see how that worked. I would fall back on idealism, and when that failed me, on earnestness. I squirm, now, reading some of those diary entries, and I smile, too. Good for me! At least I was committing myself to something and having a go.’ 

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Czech Kindertransport man

Sir Nicholas Winton, famous for organising the so-called Czech Kindertransport which evacuated over 600 children from Czechoslovakia on the eve of the Second World War, was born 110 years ago today. He died recently - aged 106! - and only a year earlier, his daughter had published a biography of her father, partly based on some youthful diaries of his.

Winton was born in Hampstead on 19 May 1909 to a German couple who had recently immigrated to London. In doing so they had also changed their name from Wertheim and converted from the Jewish faith to Christianity to help with their assimilation into British life. Aged 14, he started at Stowe School, which had just opened, excelling in maths, rugby and fencing. He was apprenticed to a London bank, but then worked at different banks in Hamburg, Berlin and Paris before returning to London in 1931, fluent in French and German. There, he joined the London Stock Exchange as a broker. Despite his profession, he was a committed socialist, and became close to various members of the Labour Party, and to those on the Left concerned about Nazism and opposed to appeasement.  

Shortly before the end of 1938, Winton journeyed to Prague where his friend Martin Blake was working with the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, helping refugees to flee from German occupation. Winton immediately established a Children’s Section of the committee, initially without authorisation, and began taking applications from parents, first at his hotel in Prague, and than at an office he opened. Thousands of parents lined up seeking a safe haven for their children. In London, Winton lobbied the Home Office for entry visas, but it responded slowly so he resorted to faking them. He raised money to fund transport and for the financial guarantee demanded by the British government (£50 per child). He also had to persuade The Netherlands to allow the children to transit, and to find British families willing to care for them on arrival. By day, Winton worked at his regular job, but devoted late afternoons and evenings to his rescue efforts. He is credited with saving 669 children, though he claimed many more could have been saved if other countries had followed the UK’s example.

After the outbreak of the Second World War, Winton applied successfully for registration as a conscientious objector, and later he served with the Red Cross. In 1940, he rescinded his objections and joined the Royal Air Force, at the lowest level, rising to the rank of war substantive flying officer by early 1945. After the war, Winton worked for the International Refugee Organization and then for the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development in Paris. There he met Grete Gjelstrup, a Danish secretary who he married in 1948. The couple settled in Maidenhead, where they brought up three children (though one died very young). In the 1983 Queen’s Birthday Honours, Winton was awarded an MBE for his work in establishing the Abbeyfield homes for the elderly in Britain.

Winton’s war rescue efforts went unnoticed for 40 years, until 1988, in fact, when Grete found a detailed scrapbook with lists of the children he’d saved. She gave the scrapbook to Elisabeth Maxwell, a Holocaust researcher (wife of media magnate Robert Maxwell), who then contacted some of the rescued children. Radio and TV exposure followed. In 2003, he was knighted in recognition of his work on the Czech Kindertransport. Winton lived until the age 106, and died in 2015. Further information is available at Wikipedia, BBC,, the National Holocaust Centre, The New York Times or The Guardian.

In the year before Winton’s death, Matador published a biography written by his daughter, Barbara Winton: If it’s Not Impossible - The Life of Sir Nicholas Winton  (a few pages can be previewed at Amazon.) Winton, himself, provided a short preface: ‘I have discovered things from reading this book that I never knew about my own family, as well as rediscovering episodes long forgotten. I had questions myself about certain incidents in my past and I have found the answers here. It’s strange to realise that Barbara knows more about my life now than I do. Having a daughter write my biography may mean that it is not unbiased, but you would have to read it to find out!’

One of Barbara Winton’s sources was a diary her father kept while at school and for a short time after. It provides, she says, ‘a fascinating glimpse’ of his school life. She refers to the diaries intermittently in the early chapters, and occasionally quotes from them. The diaries provide information, she says, on his interest in rugby and fencing, but his dislike for cricket. At the back of the diaries, he made lists of letters he had received and sent, and of books he had read. He recorded his position in class on an almost weekly basis (maths was his best subject). All the boys
, Barbara states, had to attend Officer Training Corps with a lot of marching about in uniform. Her father recorded before he started: ‘I don’t know what it will be like, I am dreading it.’ Later on, though, he described a tank demonstration as ‘ripping’ and commented, ‘I don’t think camp is so bad as I thought.’

Further diary snippets occur in Barbara Winton’s text as follows:

March 1929
‘We all went to a talkie film with the Hetheringtons. It has wonderful possibilities but I am not at all sure if it will catch on. The Americans are however making a large market by only producing these films and ceasing to produce a great number of the ordinary kind!’


Winton was involved with the setting up of the Stowe Club for Boys, also nicknamed the Pineapple Club after the pub, then defunct, where it was housed. On 28 January 1929, he noted: ‘Went to the Pineapple Club which is getting on very well. They have just had a boxing ring erected which they hope will stimulate interest in this sport! . . . At the club all went as usual. In other words both Leon and I went there with good intentions but found very little we could do especially as we have no experience of how a club should be run.’


Aged 19, Winton formed a relationship with a girl called Elizabeth. ‘Went to lunch and tea at Mr Sala’s. I danced with Elizabeth to their gramophone & Miss Anderson (her governess) did a few spiritualistic stunts in which she seems to believe.’

‘Out for tea with Eliz - I think she is pretty & certainly interesting.’

‘I went to Eliz for supper after which we went to the Empire to see one of the new talkie films. I shall be sorry to leave E as we have got very friendly in a very short time & 3 years of correspondence well - perhaps I can?’


Winton started work in a bank on 1 February 1927, and wrote in his diary, ‘BUSINESS!!’ The next day, ‘I worked very hard and feel that I am getting on well. I am beginning to understand the work. It is tedious sitting in a chair for 8 hours but work is work. Father explains all I do not understand in the evening.’


‘I had a 1/3½ lunch at Lyons. It is a cheap but dirty place and although you get served fast, one is uncomfortable.’


It is safe to say, Barbara Winton writes, looking at his diaries of 1929 and 1930 (the latter only filled in until May, and no further diaries written), ‘that he threw himself into life in Hamburg, mixing with a wide group of friends rather than a particular one or two’.

We are not so far from apes

‘I wish we all dressed like Japanese, and fashions were stationary. I loathe these yearly changes and silly light skirts and gruelling hats. We are not so far from apes as Mr Darwin would have us believe.’ This is from the diaries of the Viscountess Astor, born 140 years ago today, and famous for being the first ever woman Member of Parliament in the UK. Although she professed no interest in suffragette issues before being elected - as a temporary substitute for her husband - she did go on to become an active supporter of women’s issues. She left behind some diary material, which is held by Reading University, but only a few sparse extracts have been published.

Nancy Witcher Langhorne was born on 19 May 1879 into a large wealthy family in Virginia, US. In her teens, the family moved to an estate known as Mirador in Albemarle County. She attended finishing school in New York City, where she met the socialite Robert Gould Shaw II. They wed in 1897 (Nancy was only 18), however, even from the start, the marriage was troubled. They had one son, but divorced after four years. When her mother died, she returned to Mirador. She planned to take over the running of her father’s household, but after a visit to England, she decided, with her father’s blessing, to emigrate there with her son and her sister Phylis. She was witty, clever, beautiful and glamorous and soon became a favourite among the aristocracy.

In 1906, Nancy married Waldorf Astor, also a rich American ex-pat, and, coincidentally, born on the same day as Nancy. They moved to Cliveden, a lavish estate in Buckinghamshire on the River Thames, a wedding gift from Astor’s father; they also owned a large London house on St James’s Square. They had five children together. In 1910, Waldorf Astor became Conservative MP for Plymouth, and Nancy helped organise his campaign. In 1919, though, Astor’s father died, and Waldorf inherited his title, Viscount Astor. This required him to step down from the House of Commons to take his place in the House of Lords. He intended to divest himself of the title and return to the Commons. In the meantime, though, he promoted his wife for the seat. She campaigned for herself as a loyal wife, uninterested in a political career, and certainly showed no concern for the suffragette movement. She was elected, that same year, and became the first woman to sit in the House of Commons.

It never became possible for Waldorf to renounce his peerage, and so Nancy, in fact, remained an MP (representing Plymouth) for a quarter of a century. In Parliament, she spent two years as the only woman MP, but quickly made a name for herself with outspoken views, increasingly on women’s rights (she advocated lowering the voting age for women from 30 to 21), restricting alcohol drinking hours, the employment of women in the civil service, and the provision of nursery care. In 1931, Bobby, her son from her first marriage, was arrested for homosexual offences. In the later 1930s, she supported Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement, and, with her husband, was at the centre of the so-called Cliveden set favourable to the rise of Nazism. When war came, however, she admitted she had made mistakes, and voted against Chamberlain.

During the war, Astor increasingly became a liability for the Conservative party, and, eventually, she was encouraged (not least by her husband) to stand down in 1945, which she did reluctantly, and without acknowledging that she had lost public support. She struggled in retirement, separating from her husband and became estranged from some of her children; friends, too, were passing away (such as Bernard Shaw). She was reconciled with her husband before his death in 1952. In 1959, she was awarded the Freedom of the City of Plymouth. She died in 1964. Further biographical details are readily available at Wikipedia, The History Press, The New York Times, the UK Parliament, and The British Academy.

Lady Astor’s archive is largely held by the University of Reading Special Collections Services which, according to the Archives Hub, includes ‘political diaries and other diaries’. The university’s own collections website lists an item titled ‘Extracts from Lady Astor’s diary (typescript)’ without any further information. Otherwise, the only information on her diaries that seem to be in the public domain can be found in Nancy: The Story of Lady Astor by Adrian Fort (Jonathan Cape, 2012). Fort quotes from the diaries only occasionally, and almost always within his own narrative. Here are those parts of that narrative which include extracts (I have italicised the quotations from Astor’s diary).

‘They set off from Richmond on 20 January 1898. “Last goodbyes to dear ones,” Nancy wrote, “with heavy heart.” Before they could experience the delights of Europe, however, they had to cross the sea, a new and trying experience for Nancy, as she confided, somewhat briefly, to her diary:
23 January: Nice looking passengers.
24 January: Desperate.
25 January: All of us have been desperately ill. I hate the beautiful sea. Oh my.

As they drew near the Italian coast, her spirits revived a little: “We have made such nice friends,” she wrote. “Funny time learning the currency. It is fine on the steamer now, rather monotonous . . . these last days on the water are as beautiful as a dream.” ’


‘Early in the New Year, however, Nancy’s happiness faded. Her diary shows that at the beginning of January her chronic but undiagnosed illness returned to smother her with lassitude and depression. As 1907 unfolded she was forced to spend a great amount of time in bed, frequently at least all morning, often until the early evening, very tired and sometimes unable to get up at all. “If all the days of the year are to be as this one,” she wrote on 1 January, “may 1907 pass like lightning - bed all day.” “Have done no good to anyone,” she wrote the next evening, “a selfish, useless day.” ’


‘On 8 May, Waldorf, who seemed to have accumulated a number of ailments, went off for another cure. They had been married only a year, and Nancy was greatly upset whenever he had to leave. “I wept as I so hate his going,” she wrote in her diary, “. . . we dine alone, very sadly.” He went first to Marienbad, before returning to England to stay in a spa in Folkestone. Nancy dreaded being left alone, “helpless at Cliveden with a butler, groom of the chambers and three footmen to manage”.’


‘A few days after her dinner party, Nancy combined a remedy for her exhaustion with her longing to see Waldorf - ‘my darling Wal’ as she called him - by arranging to join him in Folkestone. [Diary:] “I took the 3.18 train to Folkestone - was met by a fat man whom I hardly recognised. He tells me his name is Waldorf Astor - Hurrah, for his 10 lbs of Germany and health . . . Rest, rest, rest; I slept well and rested, rested, rested . . . Went to beach, luncheon, sleep, walk, dined in our room and so to bed - a restful place . . . only golf croquet - such a good game but Waldorf always wins - howling wind and coolish - how I hate the sea, except to look at . . .” ’


‘The Astors’ first son was born on Tuesday 13 August 1907; he was given the Astor family name of William, but would usually be called Bill. “Frightened to death,” she wrote in her diary, as the moment drew near. “Can’t say I am enjoying it.” ’


‘Ever since her arrival in England she had dressed well and expensively, although she occasionally wondered why: “I wish I had character enough,’ she wrote in her diary, “to dress in a uniform. I wish we all dressed like Japanese, and fashions were stationary. I loathe these yearly changes and silly light skirts and gruelling hats. We are not so far from apes as Mr Darwin would have us believe.” ’


‘After the election, Nancy and Waldorf when off to the Switzerland for a well-earned rest - Nancy said that she slept ten hours for the first time in her life - and were soon restored by the mountain air, and happy days of skating, curling and sleighing. They returned to Cliveden early in February, with Lent almost upon them, and Nancy dutifully made her resolutions [Diary 9 February 1919]: “I have made many vows,” she wrote. “I shall try my utmost to keep them. Gossip is barred, Now kiss and intercourse. No cigarettes . . . all this is but little to fear when I think of manifold blessings.” ’

Thursday, May 16, 2019

State of mental anguish

‘We are all in a state of mental anguish. We feel we are forgotten by everyone, abandoned to our own resources and at the mercy of this man. Is it possible that no one will raise a finger to save the Imperial family? Where are those who have remained loyal to the Czar? Why do they delay?’ This is from the diary of Pierre Gilliard, born 140 years ago today, who was tutor to the children of the last Russian emperor, Nicholas II. Nicholas, his wife, and their children would all be murdered a couple of months later. Gilliard’s diary is considered by some to be the ‘best, first-hand account of the life of the last Imperial family’.

Gilliard was born on 16 May 1879 in Fiez, Switzerland, near the border with France. Little seems to be known of his early life, but he became a teacher and tutor of the French language. In 1904, he travelled to Russia to work for the family of Duke George of Leuchtenberg, who was related to the royal family. By the following year, he had been engaged as tutor for the elder children of Tsar Nicholas II - the Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana Nikolaevna. Having grown fond of the family, he stayed with them after the revolution in 1917 during their exile to Siberia. However, he was prevented from continuing to do so when they were again moved, to Ekaterinburg, in May that year. After the infamous murders, he remained in Siberia until the White Army arrived, and for a further three years, assisting Nikolai Sokolov with his investigations of the murders.

In 1919, Gilliard married Aleksandra Tegleva who had served as nanny to the Tsar’s youngest daughter, Grand Duchess Anastasia. In 1920, he returned to Switzerland where he became a French professor at the University of Lausanne. In the mid-1920s, he and his wife became involved in assessing - and ultimately rejecting - a claim by Anna Anderson that she was the Grand Duchess Anastasia (her burial place having remained unknown during the Communist era). Gilliard was awarded the French Legion of Honor. He suffered a severe car accident in 1958, from which he never fully recovered, and he died in 1962. A little further information is available Wikipedia, Alexander Palace, or History of Royal Women.

Gilliard is remembered today because of his involvement in refuting Anderson’s claim but also because he kept a diary of the hugely eventful time he spent with the Russian royal family. Initially published in French, it was translated into English (F. Appleby Holt) and published in 1921 by Hutchinson & Co as Thirteen Years at the Russian Court - A Personal Record of the Last Years and Death of the Car Nicholas II and his Family. This is freely available online at Internet Archive and at the Alexander Palace website. The Tsar and the Tsarina both also kept diaries, right up until their last days, which have also been published - see Hope remains above all and Death of the Romanovs respectively.

Bob Atchison on the Alexander Palace website says this: ‘The best, first-hand account of the life of the last Imperial family of Russia was written by Pierre Gilliard, French tutor to the Tsar’s children. He wrote “Thirteen Years at the Russian Court” to refute the the misleading and false books he discovered upon his return to Western Europe. He criticized the “absurdities and falsehoods” he found that were accepted as truths and endeavored to put things right by publishing this book. His goal was to “to bring Nicholas II and his family back to life.” Since this book was written the opening of Soviet archives has expanded our understanding of the facts surrounding [the] murder of the Romanovs in Ekaterinburg. For example, Pierre[’s] secret and heroic efforts in smuggling messages, money and jewels in and out on behalf of the family at great risk to his own safety has been revealed.’ Here are several extracts from Gilliard’s diary.

25 January 1918
‘Tatiana Nicolaievna’s birthday. Te Deum in the house. Fine winter’s day; sunshine; 15° Réaumur. Went on building the snow mountain as usual. The soldiers of the guard came to help us.’

2 February 1918
‘23° R. below zero. Prince Dolgorouky and I watered the snow mountain. We carried thirty buckets of water. It was so cold that the water froze on the way from the kitchen tap to the mountain. Our buckets and the snow mountain “steamed.” To-morrow the children can begin tobogganing.’

4 February 1918
‘The thermometer is said to have dropped last night below 30° Reaumur (37° Centigrade). Terrible wind. The Grand-Duchesses’ bedroom is a real ice-house.’

8 February 1918
‘The soldiers’ committee has to-day decided to replace Pankratof by a Bolshevik commissary from Moscow. Things are going from bad to worse. It appears that there is no longer a state of war between Soviet Russia and Germany, Austria, and Bulgaria. The army is to be disbanded, but Lenin and Trotsky have not yet signed the peace.’

13 February 1918
‘The Czar tells me that the demobilisation of the army has begun, several classes having already been disbanded. All the old soldiers (the most friendly) are to leave us. The Czar seems very depressed at this prospect; the change may have disastrous results for us.’

25 February 1918
‘Colonel Kobylinsky has received a telegram informing him that, from March 1st, “Nicholas Romanoff and his family must be put on soldiers’ rations and that each member of the family will receive 600 roubles per month drawn from the interest of their personal estate.” Hitherto their expenses have been paid by the state. As the family consists of seven persons, the whole household will have to be run on 4,200 roubles a month.’

5 March 1918
‘Yesterday the soldiers, with a hang-dog look (for they felt it was a mean task), began to destroy the snow mountain with picks. The children are disconsolate.’

15 March 1918
‘The townspeople, hearing of our situation, find various ways of sending us eggs, sweetmeats, and delicacies.’

17 March 1918
‘To-day is Carnival Sunday. Everyone is merry. The sledges pass to and fro under our windows; sound of bells, mouth-organs, and singing. . . The children wistfully watch the fun. They have begun to grow bored and find their captivity irksome. They walk round the courtyard, fenced in by its high paling through which they can see nothing. Since the destruction of their snow mountain their only distraction is sawing and cutting wood.

The arrogance of the soldiers is inconceivable; those who have left have been replaced by a pack of blackguardly-looking young men.

In spite of the daily increase of their sufferings, Their Majesties still cherish hope that among their loyal friends some may be found to attempt their release. Never was the situation more favourable for escape, for there is as yet no representative of the Bolshevik Government at Tobolsk. With the complicity of Colonel Kobylinsky, already on our side, it would be easy to trick the insolent but careless vigilance of our guards. All that is required is the organised and resolute efforts of a few bold spirits outside. We have repeatedly urged upon the Czar the necessity of being prepared for any turn of events. He insists on two conditions which greatly complicate matters: he will not hear of the family being separated or leaving Russian territory.

One day the Czarina said to me in this connection: “I wouldn’t leave Russia on any consideration, for it seems to me that to go abroad would be to break our last link with the past, which would then be dead for ever.” ’

10 April 1918
A “full sitting” of our guard, at which the Bolshevik commissary reveals the extent of his powers. He has the right to have anyone opposing his orders shot within twenty-four hours and without trial. The soldiers let him enter the house.’

15 April 1918
‘Alexis Nicolaivitch in great pain yesterday and to-day. It is one of his severe attacks of haemophilia.’

24 April 1918
‘We are all in a state of mental anguish. We feel we are forgotten by everyone, abandoned to our own resources and at the mercy of this man. Is it possible that no one will raise a finger to save the Imperial family? Where are those who have remained loyal to the Czar? Why do they delay?’

25 April 1918
‘Shortly before three o’clock, as I was going along the passage, I met two servants sobbing. They told me that Yakovlef has come to tell the Czar that he is taking him away. What can be happening? I dare not go up without being summoned, and went back to my room. Almost immediately Tatiana Nicolaievna knocked at my door. She was in tears, and told me Her Majesty was asking for me. I followed her. The Czarina was alone, greatly upset. She confirmed what I had heard, that Yakovlef has been sent from Moscow to take the Czar away and is to leave to-night.

29 April 1918
‘The children have received a letter from the Czarina from Tioumen The journey has been very trying. Horses up to their chests in water crossing the rivers. Wheels broken several times.’

3 May 1918
‘Colonel Kobylinsky has received a telegram saying that the travellers have been detained at Ekaterinburg. What has happened?’

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Caught in the mustard mill

‘George McNally was caught in the belts of the mustard mill at 6 p.m. and all his clothes were ripped from his back, and yet not much hurt. God be praised for Mercy.’ This is from the diary of Henry J. Heinz, he of the 57 varieties, who died 100 years ago today. He started out by selling horseradish in glass jars so buyers could see the purity of his product, and, over time, he became a powerful industrial pioneer, one who cared about his employees, about their welfare and safety, as well about the quality of the food he produced and sold across the United States and in the UK. Extensive extracts from his diaries can be found in a 1970s biography.

Heinz was born in Pittsburgh in 1844, the oldest child of German immigrants. While still young, he helped around the house and in the garden; by the age of 14 he was managing his own plot, and supplying customers. After high school, he attended Duff’s Mercantile College. Aged 25, he and his friend L. Clarence Noble founded Heinz Noble & Company which marketed horseradish, packaged in glass jars so as to reveal its purity. That same year, in 1869, he married Sarah Sloan Young, and they would have five children. He was a highly religious man, having been brought up as a Lutheran, but Sarah was a Presbyterian, and it was in the Presbyterian faith that they raised their children.

In 1875, a glut in the horseradish market along with other factors led to Heinz Noble falling bankrupt. Undaunted, Heinz vowed to repay every debt, which he did; and the following year, he and two relatives launched a new company. This grew rapidly, not least selling a new product, tomato ketchup. Heinz eventually bought out his partners and renamed the firm H. J. Heinz Company. To expand his market, he established a relationship with retailers in England; and he built a state-of-the-art factory on the Allegheny River. The company was incorporated in 1905, with Heinz himself as its first president, a position he retained through his life.

Heinz was noted for his benevolent management style as well for fair treatment of workers and pioneering safe and clean food preparation. Indeed, he led a successful lobbying effort, against much of the rest of the food industry, in favour of the first major consumer protection legislation in the US, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. During World War I, he worked with the US Food Administration. He died soon after the war ended, on 14 May 1919. One of his grandsons, John Heinz, would become a US senator; and one of the grandsons of a second cousin would become president - Donald Trump. Further information is available from Wikipedia, John Heinz: A Western Pennsylvania Legacy, Astrum People, Encyclopedia of World Biography, National Geographic, or American Heritage.

Heinz was a keen diarist, documenting his daily life with brief entries for many years. Some 18 or 19 volumes are extant today, covering the years 1875-1894; some diaries mostly from before 1875 are known to have been lost. Although these diaries have not been published in their own right, there are voluminous extracts from them to be found in The Good Provider H. J. Heinz and his 57 varieties by Robert C. Alberts, as published by Arthur Barker (Weidenfeld) in 1973. A digital copy can be borrowed online at Internet Archive.

Alberts describes the diaries as follows: ‘They are peopled by a cross section of the human species of that day: a numerous family, small-town neighbors, stable hands, office clerks, salesmen, executives, disgruntled creditors, competitors, the girls on the food processing lines - 1000 of them in the Pittsburgh factory in 1900. In its homespun prose, the diary gives a picture of life in that time: the way people worked, played, traveled, worshiped, and died; their illnesses and their education; the wages they got and the prices they paid; the way a company was run; the reception of such marvels as electric power, natural gas, the telephone, the automobile. It provides material for a look into a subject not often explored in American biography: the mind, character, and rise to command of an industrial pioneer.’ Here are several of those extracts.

2 November 1875
‘L. C. writes again today that he checked for $300 and will check for $500 tomorrow. This caused me to write and say, for God’s sake quit this promiscuous checking, it is killing me.’

22 November 1875
‘Hardest day on finances we ever had I mean we were as near going to protest as ever we were. E. J. thought we would have to let two notes go to protest, but I managed just seven minutes before three to check on Sharpsburg through Peoples and got a certified check for $1,200.’

28 November 1876
‘John Heinz had a lawsuit about an old horse today and had to pay costs. He is learning that courts don’t always give justice.’

10 December 1876
‘Zero through the day. We all remained home. It is very inconvenient to attend church when living in the country.’

5 August 1877
‘Pittsburgh. Arrived at 9 a.m. and saw all the ruins caused by the mob during the Great Rail Road Strike. It is the awfullest looking sight I ever saw. Millions of property burned down.’

2 November 1877
‘Mr. J. Wilson of Chicago is in our city and spends all day until midnight with us. Had quite a confidential talk with him on our past trouble. After all of our conversation he even gave me a check to help me out of a tight place, which we mailed him one week later, which was today. He also changed our terms from cash to 30 days.’

8 February 1878
‘John and I had a few words because he misses the first train in the morning.’

19 February 1878
‘There was a meeting of creditors today of H. N. & Co. There were only about 15 creditors present. They decided to pay 11% of a dividend and then close up and declare a final one again.’

17 May 1878
‘George McNally was caught in the belts of the mustard mill at 6 p.m. and all his clothes were ripped from his back, and yet not much hurt. God be praised for Mercy.’

10 November 1878
‘I enjoyed this day very much. Sunday School at 9:15. Met my class. All well. Then to Christ Church to hear Dr Morgan and to Mission Sunday School at 2 p.m. Then to hear Reverend E. M. Wood at 7:30 p.m. at Christ M. E. Church. To class at 6:15. So on the whole, my day was all taken up except about two hours which I enjoyed with my family.’

16 November 1878
‘Maggie Keil called at office for donation of pickles for Grace Church Festival. We supplied her with all they wanted and the church has our best wishes. Bought Clarence a suit for $6.50 and suits for the children and just wonder how some people who have a large family get along on small salary.’

2 December 1878
‘Had to speak plainly to the bill clerk, as he delayed some invoices last night and insisted it must not happen again. Also called all the girls together upstairs. Told them we would not allow talking during working hours except such as was necessary to do their work, etc. All was kindly received. Good feeling throughout the house.’

16 December 1878
‘Watkins, the jelly man, called and was under the influence of liquor. I told him to call when his head would be clear. Mrs. Jacob Covode called today to dine with us. I loaned her $75.’

4 February 1879
‘Irene and Clarence begin going to Public School this a.m. for the first time in their lives. Irene is just 7 years, 7 months old this day and Clarence will be 6 years old on the 7th of April 1879. They express themselves as delighted and prefer it to the kindergarten. We buy them each a five cent slate and pencil at close of the first day’s school and they go and pick it themselves. Neither know their letters. We have kept them from it on purpose and desire to see if they won’t learn all the better.’

3 December 1880
‘Brother Peter leaves for Cincinnati tonight to commence canvassing that city for the first time on bulk goods by wagon, in Peter’s peculiar style but a very successful one. He surpasses all of our agents in this agency plan of introducing goods. We shipped him $1,200 worth of goods to Cincinnati and a span of spotted horses, new covered wagons, and harness by boat.’

8 December 1880
‘Brother John went up to Scott, the dentist, with Atorney John W. Hague to rescue a girl in our employ, as the dentist acted like a crazy man. An article in the city papers gave a statement saying Mr. H., which people took for me, as I am called the pickle man. This is very annoying to me, as `Brother John so often gets into lawsuits, etc., but he is learning that it does not pay.’

23 April 1885
‘Fire in Sharpsburg at 12:15 this early morning. The town fire bell rang. We saw quite a fire, we supposed in Etna. We retired and this morning found eleven houses, the entire block from Main to Clay Street and from Church Alley and Tenth. We hope this will stimulate the old bogies to vote for a water works, which they have opposed.’

29 April 1887
‘Am reading up on roses and flowers and pleasure in cultivating them. Spent over $250 on trees and flowers this year.’

17 February 1888
‘Orlando. Most people are anxious to sell. They ask from $1000 to $3000 per acre for groves from six to twenty years old and [indecipherable word] within one-half to three miles of the post office. The town is partially surrounded by lakes and they are beauties. Have not allowed myself to be persuaded to invest.’

15 December 1888
‘New York. Very busy but took time to purchase Irene a bracelet at Tiffanys.’

24 December  1888
‘I purchased the most extravagant Christmas gift of my life at W. W. Wattles today, a diamond pin (three stones), fine in plain figures, $710, but concluded a woman so modest and kind was deserving of something while I could pay cash and had no debts.’

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Forwood valiant and brave

‘Day of triumph! F. walks round Serpentine with strength and a stick and enjoys the air, the Brent geese, and the snowdrops in the Dell.’ This is from a diary kept by Dirk Bogarde, the English matinee idol and memoir writer, during the period when his partner, Anthony Forwood, had been hospitalised and was recuperating. A week or so later, when the two of them were returning to France, Bogarde writes in the same diary, ’Wheelchair, stick and the rest of the paraphernalia. Forwood valiant and brave.’ These are rare diary extracts from Bogarde in the public domain. Although Bogarde, who died 20 years go today, kept diaries for much of his life, he destroyed a good part of his personal archive, wanting his autobiographical legacy to be limited as much as possible to his published memoirs.

Derek Jules Gaspard Ulric Niven van den Bogaerde was born in 1921 in West Hampstead, London. His father, of Flemish ancestry, was the art editor for The Times and his mother was a former actress. As a teenager, he was sent to live with his mother’s family in Glasgow, but returned to London in 1937 where he enrolled at the Chelsea School of Art. By 1939, however, he had dropped art studies in favour of drama, making his stage debut that year, and taking a small part in a George Formby film. During the war, he joined the Royal Corps of Signals first and then, in 1943, was commissioned into the Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey). Mostly, he seems to have served as an intelligence officer, working with the Air Photographic Intelligence Unit, and eventually achieving the rank of major. In April 1945, he was one of the first Allied officers to reach the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany.

After being demobilised, he returned to acting, and his agent re-christened him Dirk Bogarde. In 1947, a London stage appearance led to both praise from Noel Coward and a contract from the Rank Organisation. Having been included in the cast list for Sin of Esther Waters, due to star Stewart Granger, Bogarde was given the lead when Granger dropped out. But it was only in 1950, when he starred as a young villain in The Blue Lamp, that he really made his name as a matinee idol. And the 1954 film Doctor in the House turned him into one of the most popular British stars of the 1950s. After leaving Rank in the early 1960s, he undertook more challenging roles, in art house productions, for example, and in films tackling homosexuality which was still a taboo subject at the time - indeed, he only acknowledged his own homosexuality much later. In 1963, he won the first of two best actor BAFTAs for his lead role in Joseph Losey’s The Servant; the second came two years later for his role in Darling.

In 1968, Bogarde moved to France with his manager Anthony Forwood with whom he had been living for many years; and in the early 1970s they bought a property near Grasse. He continued to star in memorable films, such as Death in Venice and The Night Porter, but he also started writing autobiographical memoirs which were critically acclaimed, as well as novels. In 1983, the couple returned to live in London so that Forwood could undergo treatment for cancer. Forwood died in 1988, and Bogarde retired from acting after his last film in 1990. He was knighted in 1992. He himself died on 8 May 1999. Further information is available from The official Dirk Bogarde website (built as a tribute to his uncle by Brock van den Bogaerde), Wikipedia, Bloomsbury, Readers Digest, and IMDB.

Bogarde was a keen recorder of his own life, so much so that, in his own lifetime, he published seven memoirs and a collection of letters. He certainly kept diaries; however little is known about them. This is because late on in life he destroyed much of his personal archive - clearly wanting to control his autobiographical legacy. However, John Coldstream in Dirk Bogarde: The authorised biography (which can be previewed at Googlebooks) also makes significant use of what he calls ‘the diary’. He explains this in his introduction as follows.

‘There was also the Diary. It exists only from 1955, seven years after Anthony Forwood moved in with Dirk, and it was in the main kept by the former. Yet if Tony lopped off the tip of a finger in a gardening accident, or was confined in hospital, Dirk would take over. There are some prolonged periods when no entries are made by either - for example, in the watershed year of 1961 and towards the end of Tony’s life; the volume for 1956 is missing. The Diary is at its fullest from the mid-sixties to the early eighties, and it has proved of incalculable worth in the preparation of this book. Apart from providing a record of the ‘who, what, when and where’, it gives indications of the ‘how’ and the ‘why’. Every now and then, too, like a lighthouse beam momentarily picking out a white sail, it reveals the strength of the bond which united these two men in a relationship that was admired by their friends and by the most casual of acquaintances as more secure than many a marriage.’

At least one of Bogarde’s memoirs (I haven’t been through them all) contains a significant section of extracts from a diary (this might, of course, be the same diary referred to by Coldstream): Backcloth: A memoir (Viking, 1986, and more recently Bloomsbury, 2013). The book can be previewed at both Google and Amazon. The Publisher’s blurb states: ‘Filling the gaps left between his previous memoirs, as well as highlighting new episodes, Backcloth explores the patterns of pleasure and pain that have made up Bogarde’s extraordinary life. Based on personal letters, notebooks and diaries and covering many aspects of a celebrated life, we share experiences from his family home in Hampstead through to his farmhouse retreat in Provence. This memoir highlights the people, emotions and experiences that made him into the man loved by so many. Written with all the honesty, wit and intelligence that made Bogarde such a popular writer, Backcloth is both eloquent and touching.’

The last chapter (10) of the memoir is largely concerned with the period in Bogarde’s life when his partner, Forwood, fell ill and was hospitalised. The chapter begins with the single word ‘Diary’, and, without any other preamble, Bogarde then provides many dated diary extracts (unlike in any other part of the book). Here are several of those extracts.

13 February 1983
‘Walk to Edward VII in bitter cold. Buy champagne-splits, toothbrush, soap. F. wants a bath. No soap provided, apparently.

Back to Connaught: interview with rather smooth young man, pleasant, and possibly friendly, but won’t know, as usual, until I see his piece printed. Many a slip between Interview and Article. Take the risk because it is for The Times.’

F. asked for a print or picture to have on wall of his rather spartan room. Wants a ‘Country scene: fields and things, summery: something I can tell myself stories about while I’m lying here. You understand?’ I do. But where to go? Probably Medici tomorrow.

National Film Theatre Lecture. Theo Cowan collects me early at four-thirty. Show sold out with no advertising, which pleases me, but am still terrified. Good audience, clever, alert, good reception as far as I can make out, on stage for two and a quarter hours, which seems quite long, but as always am far too nervous to register anything.

Norah there, John Charlton and wife Susan, Olga (my French agent) comes from Paris, Margaret Hinxman, Gareth F. and many others. All have drinks in gloomy black Refreshment Room, but feel happy all went well. Olga Horstig Primuz amazed, and moved, by the long clip shown from Neal Story which closed show. She can’t imagine why it has never been shown as a film; it looks fantastic on Big Screen.

I can’t imagine why either. Ho hum.’

19 February 1983
‘Dull. Bitter. Walk to hospital. F. stronger, more alert. Buy enormous tin of candies for the nurses, all of whom are incredibly kind and caring. Nurses should get two thousand pounds a day. Not one. Cold starting, I think. Bugger.

Lunch Elizabeth and Sarah at very noisy restaurant (their choice not mine) at end of Kings Road. Ear-splitting noise, plates crashing on tiled floor, food fairly oily, masses of Sloane Rangers, ‘Hooray Henrys’ plus ‘Hooray Henriettas’, with too many children, all shouting and eating pasta. Proof they’ve all ‘done’ Italy at some time, I suppose. Rupert [nephew] and pretty girl, Portia, arrive for coffee. Three bottles of wine. Elizabeth insists on paying with her Barclaycard. Never had one in her life before . . . showing off! Cost a bomb too, silly girl.

Rupert drives me back to Connaught in clapped-out car, very fast, very expert, a really super chap, at least six foot four. Where does he get the height in our family of ‘ordinary measure’?

F.’s room massed with flowers like a mobster’s funeral parlour. Remove most into the corridor, he’ll suffocate. Stay longer than normal: a good sign.

Boaty Boatwright, Diana Hammond, Kathleen Tynan call from N. Y. A lot of love flying around.

Meet Kathleen Sutherland in Hall. Sad, growing old. She was so vivid and glamorous when she taught me fashion design at Chelsea Poly in ’37-38. Misses Graham terribly and says she is just waiting to join him. Why did he have to go first?

No answer to that.’ 

2 March 1983
‘Hounded practically all day by Press who want statement on David Niven (ill in the Wellington). I don’t know David Niven, and wouldn’t speak to Press anyway even if I did. Strange race, journalists, strange country; hounding a dying man to the grave.’

3 March 1983
‘Walk with F. very, very slowly ‘round the block’ (Grosvenor Square). But he’s stronger. I walk all afternoon round the Serpentine. Brisk, sunny day. Masses of people about, not one English voice among them. It’s like Central Park.’

5 March 1983.
‘Day of triumph! F. walks round Serpentine with strength and a stick and enjoys the air, the Brent geese, and the snowdrops in the Dell.’

14 March 1983.
‘Elizabeth and George arrive to accompany us to airport and home. She will do the housekeeping, George the land which has been neglected for so long. I'll need help. Wheelchair, stick and the rest of the paraphernalia. Forwood valiant and brave; anyway, it’s better than walking at terrible Heathrow. I push him and no Press near because we are flying Air France. So that’s a relief. Flight on time, easy, specified seats (booked in advance . . . why can’t you on ‘The World’s Favourite Airline’, BA?) and land at Nice about four. Fine spring rain, car waiting, arranged by Arnold (my ex stand-in for many years) and we drive home with anxious, and not very good, driver who is terrified of the narrow lanes, sounding horn at every bend.

Marie-Christine [guardian] has meal ready for evening, house spotless, flowers in Long Room. All smells of strong ‘shag’ (her husband rolls his own cigs) but all serene. Bendo slightly hysterical. Settle F. and then discover that I have left his suitcase down at the airport. Typical. I’m so bloody capable. But we are back at home.

For the time being, at least.’

5 July 1985.
‘It’s 3.35 a.m. and I can sleep no longer. They say that as one grows older one needs less sleep. Perhaps it’s true?

I’m writing this at the oval table in the bow window of my opulent suite in Rusacks Hotel overlooking the 18th hole of the oldest golf course in the world. It is already quite light. I had forgotten how short the nights are here.

I’ve got two fat armchairs, settee, coffee table with a wobbly leg, a vitrine full of tarnished silver cups for long-forgotten matches played on that course below, a vase of dried leaves and grasses on the mantelpiece, the colour of mashed turnips, a large, dark print of anemones in a bowl, parchment lampshades hanging high on the ceiling.

There is a thick sea-mist and I cannot see the waves, only hear them sighing lazily along the beach, and only then when I open the windows. Close them because it is bitterly cold.

Last night was fun. Graduation Dinner with tables at herring-bone angles, a piper to play us in. Me at top table with silver candelabra, apricot roses, crystal and silver. Very elegant, rich apparently, established. Scowling scholastic faces in heavy gilt frames on the panelled walls, stained glass, speeches, a loving cup passed from one to another. Altogether moving, ancient and perfect. Kindness has overwhelmed me all day. 

Later the Graduation Ball, in a giant chiffon-draped marquee on the lawns. A Tissot painting. Girls in long dresses and tartan sashes, some of the men in the kilt, the rest in tails with white buttonholes. Everyone young and gay, and alive, and I an unbelieving part of it all.

Walked home to Rusacks with Rosalind through a silent St Andrew’s. I suppose, after so many centuries, the town takes all this in its stride? I can’t, quite, yet.

This morning - or was it yesterday morning? - a television man said: ‘Doctor van den Bogarde, would you move a wee bittie to your right... you’re too far apart for the camera.’

I turned in surprise to see which of my relatives it could have been.

I am a mutt. I’ll get used to it.

Perhaps back to bed: it’s so damned cold my fingers are white.

Across the brilliant green of the 18th sacred hole, coming wanly through the mist, a young couple, she in a long dress trailing a negligent scarf, he in crumpled tails. They are wandering slowly; her head on his shoulder, through the meandering spume and fine rain, arms around each other.

In no hurry. Life before them. Or is it only breakfast? Which they are serving at four o’clock.

No matter: a new day has begun and it is as beautiful a way to see it start as any I can imagine.

A billow of mist rolls in from the ocean, drowning the ancient Club House, swirling across the pampered green below, dimming the light about me.

The tarnished cups in the vitrine look like lead; the chairs, the settee, the wobbly-legged coffee table become dark looming shapes, like fat scattered cushions; and the dried grasses on the mantelpiece are ghostly, still, spiky as sticks of incense; the lamps above me hang in shadow, shrouded in the gloom.

It’s very cold; back, I think, now to bed. The maid is bringing tea at eight o’clock.’

Friday, May 3, 2019

They mix it up almost as I do

‘We have a three-hour session at the home of the Artists’ Union, a big old mansion once the home of some French family. We hear a great variety of Vietnamese music, from the Western-influenced modern compositions to ancient traditional music. They mix it up, alternating old and new almost as I do.’ This is none other than Pete Seeger, the great American folk singer who was born a century ago today. Although he rarely kept diaries throughout his long life, the above quote comes from a brief diary he did keep while travelling in Vietnam in the early 1970s.

Seeger was bon on 3 May 1919 in Manhattan, New York City. His father was a Harvard-trained composer and musicologist and his mother a concert violinist and music teacher. When Seeger was a still a toddler, his parents set out with him and his two older brothers in a homemade trailer aiming to bring music to the working people of the American South. Aged four, he was sent to a boarding school for a couple of years, and aged seven his parents divorced. Seeger attended schools in Nyack where his mother lived before being sent to Avon Old Farms School, a private boarding school in Connecticut, until 1936. It was at Avon that he first began playing the ukulele; he first heard the five string banjo when visiting music festivals with his father and stepmother, Ruth Crawford. Also, while still a teenager, he joined the Young Communist League.

Seeger followed in his father’s footsteps by going to Harvard, but, increasingly, he became more involved in music events and politics than in his courses. By 1938, he had dropped out of college, and was on the road, travelling round the country, collecting ballads, singing, and developing a remarkable ability on the banjo. In 1940, he formed the Almanac Singers, a quartet that also featured the folksinger and composer Woody Guthrie, which performed at union halls, farm meetings, and wherever their populist folk messages and songs were welcome. In 1943, he married Toshi Aline Ota, and they would have four children (although one died in infancy). When he was called up to the US Army, he trained as an airplane mechanic and served in the Pacific. However, once there, it wasn’t long before he was reassigned to entertain American troops. After the war, in 1948, Seeger formed another group, the Weavers which went around the country giving concerts, particularly to students, and it began to produce records. However, as the group achieved national fame, so public attention to Seeger’s left-wing politics led to it being blacklisted.

Thereafter, Seeger usually toured and performed on his own, sometimes with half-siblings Mike or Peggy, but he remained the focus of blacklisting by mainstream entertainment organisers. This was even more the case after he refused to answers questions by the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1955, and a subsequent conviction for contempt of Congress in 1961 (though this was later overturned). Seeger became a fixture at folk festivals across the country, and is credited with popularising the ‘hootenanny’ i.e a gathering of performers playing and singing for each other, often with audience participation. He wrote many songs himself, and collaborated with others also. Where Have All the Flowers Gone and If I Had a Hammer are two of his most famous songs. During the 1970s and 1980s, he was often to be found protesting on environmental - particularly antinuclear - issues, as well as promoting the music of his friend Woody Guthrie who had died in 1967.

By the 1990s, the taint of accusations against him in the McCarthy period had all but died away, and somehow he had become an American institution. In 1994, he was awarded a National Medal of Arts, and in 1996 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He released more successful albums, winning Grammys for Pete in 1996, At 89 in 2008, and Tomorrow’s Children (with the Rivertown Kids) in 2011. In January, 2009, at the finale of Barack Obama’s inaugural concert in Washington, D.C., Seeger (and his grandson Tao Rodríguez-Seeger) joined Bruce Springsteen, and a vast crowd in singing the Woody Guthrie song This Land Is Your Land - with several political verses having been restored to the popular sanitised version
. Seeger died a few years later, in 2014. Further biographical information is available at Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Folkways at The Smithsonian, or from any number of obituaries (The New York Times, The Guardian, RollingStone, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times).

It can’t be said that Seeger was much of a diarist, though a couple of brief diaries he did pen have been published - in Pete Seeger in His Own Words as selected and edited by Rob Rosenthal and Sam Rosenthal (Paradigm Publishers, 2012). Seeger’s preface explains how this book came about.

‘I was asked to write a short last chapter to this book. But Rob and Sam said it would be better as a preface. So here ’tis. Dear Reader: For 30 years or more, I had put copies of letters, unfinished diaries, and miscellaneous essays in a filing cabinet and forgot about ’em. Then four years ago, a professor asked if he could look through them, perhaps reprint some. I said “sure” in my usual unthinking way.

Behold. The professor and his son have made a book. I’m now age 93. Whatever insights I’ve had and whatever mistakes I’ve made in my long life are now displayed. The inconsistencies, the contradictions are all here. All! Well, at least a lot of ’em, thanks to Rob and Sam. Yes, thanks also to Dean Birkenkamp and the folks at Paradigm Publishers, you can now read them.

Now, I’ll waste a little time to say that I found myself wanting to rewrite almost all of the pieces in this book. But Rob and Sam thought it best not to go down that road. What was, is.
To all of you I say, stay well. Keep on, Old Pete Seeger’

In the book, there are references to two diaries. The first is Diary of a Soldier, begun in March 1943, and picked up again in April 1944, added to through 1944 and 1945, and finished in 1947. However, it barely reads like a diary, more a record or memoir. Seeger, who is in Keesler Field, Mississippi in March 1943, starts the diary as follows: ‘During this lull, while I am sitting here waiting for shipment, I thought I would take advantage of my free time to write the story of my time in the army. . .’ And he proceeds to set out what has happened to him over the last few years, and then describe in a little more detail his time since having joined the army. Later entries (very few of them) also have a substantial retrospective tone.

The second diary dates from nearly 30 years later, when Seeger was visiting Vietnam. It’s source is cited as Eastern Horizon magazine (1972), so it seems likely that Seeger was commissioned by the magazine to write it. Here are several extracts.

10 March 1972
‘We arrive in Hanoi amid palm trees and rice paddies to our right and left. Is this the land of “the Enemy”? We are greeted by 30 members of the Committee for Solidarity with the People of the U.S. Huge bouquets of flowers are put in our arms, and we are kissed and hugged, with tears of emotion in our eyes and theirs.

First impressions of Hanoi: It is a city (1,000,000) on bicycles, mostly manufactured locally with imported steel. An amiable, courteous people, small in size. They show a love of color in spite of little money - it takes two or three months wages to buy a bicycle. Trees everywhere, and so are bomb shelters. The city has not been bombed since 1968, but they think an all-out attack may yet come.

We visit a little temple-pagoda 1,000 years old. It was destroyed by the retreating French, and later rebuilt. We also visit a lovely park created by thousands of volunteers, who made a lake from a swamp! put in flowers, pavilions, goldfish tanks - wow! It shows what can be done with very little money only if you have love and perseverance. Someone has “sculptured” bushes to look like ostriches, lions and deer on the lawn. And then we see “elephants” sculpted by growing four small pines and weaving their long branches around to form legs torso, head, and trunk!

Another thing I have never seen: bicycles each carrying loads up to 800 pounds! The device was invented during the war against the French. A man walks pushing the bicycle with one hand on a diagonal stick behind the seat, and another steering by a horizontal stick tied to the handlebars. The load is on two platforms hung low one on each side of the bicycle.’

11 March 1972
‘In the morning we visit the museum, which combines archaeology with crafts and modern painting and sculpture. It is a small museum, but one of the best we’ve ever seen. There we find a 4,000 (!) year-old bronze drum. It is four feet high and was used for signaling in naval battles. But it is still in perfect condition. Decorations covering it depict the life and times of that period.

In the afternoon we visit an exhibition of war crimes. Latest ingenious bombs and devices to carry on computerized electronic warfare from the air are on display, enough to give anyone nightmares.

Evening - we go to the circus. Performers are young, but of high quality. We see trained monkeys peddling tiny bicycles. This country is at war, but the people are not grim about it.’

12 March 1972
‘We have a three-hour session at the home of the Artists’ Union, a big old mansion once the home of some French family. We hear a great variety of Vietnamese music, from the Western-influenced modern compositions to ancient traditional music. They mix it up, alternating old and new almost as I do. Later at 8 pm we have a similar session at the radio station.

Here are some of the instruments we see: A beautiful bird-like flute (the player tells us of performing this instrument for soldiers in sections where U.S. chemical sprays had killed all birds, and the bird calls he made on the instruments were the only ones to have been heard there in years).

Banjo-like instruments have two strings over very high frets, so the player can slur the notes. There is also an instrument like a cigar-box ukulele; a bowed instrument held between the knees of the player while seated; various wood-blocks, claves, drums, from huge to small; and harps like kotos.

All the Western instruments are there. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hanoi, like Tokyo, doesn’t have a first-rate symphony orchestra some day. (Hey, it does have a symphony, which I find out later.)

But what really gets me is an instrument completely new to me, a monochord - one stringed. The Vietnamese name for it is dan ban (pronounced “don bow” - as in bow and arrow - with falling pitch. The same words, if inflected differently, could mean “bullet pinches.”) Like a dulcimer, it is a horizontal box. Perhaps it was once set on the floor, or on the lap. The one we see stood on legs, and is amplified, so as to be heard by any audience bigger than five or ten.

The one steel string is tuned by a peg at the player’s right. His left hand holds a thin curved rod. By forcing this toward the string, he can gradually lower the pitch as much as four or even seven notes. Thus the dan ban is similar to a broomstick-wash-tub bass. When moved to the left, the rod raises the pitch, but no more than three or four notes.

While plucking, the player’s right hand momentarily dampens the string in order to sound the high harmonics, a bell-like tone. Thus if the string’s basic pitch is low C, the first usable note is middle C, and the few notes below that. So most melodies will be played in the 2 1/2 octaves above C. Without the left hand bending the curved rod, one could only play bugle calls. With the rod in action, one hears a warm sensuous melody. An old folk song saying has it: “Let the player of the dan ban be enraptured, by his own music. You, being a girl, should not listen to it.” But the dan ban was never puritanically outlawed, as the fiddle was in America.

A week later we are given a two-hour lesson in the dan ban or don bow, as I shall anglicize it. No one knows exactly how old it is - perhaps several hundred years, perhaps much more.

Our instructor, Doan Auh Tuan, a young man in his twenties, is a member of the Vietnam Traditional Music Ensemble, playing on radio and TV, concert tours, as well as performances for soldiers and for children in parks. He plays often as accompaniment, or with accompaniment. He says that in the old days a good player might be invited to perform at a feudal court. But it was usually in the peasants home or in the courtyard, where a few neighbors could gather to listen. 

14 March 1972
‘We are taken on a 5-hour drive to one of the beauty spots of the world: Hon Gay Bay. which is filled with several thousand steep rocky islands, averaging 400-600 feet high with fishing junks sailing between them.’

15 March 1972
‘I am invited for a 3-hour session at the home of the Delegation to DRVN (North Vietnam) from the PRG (Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam). You see, the NLF [National Liberation Front, also known as the Vietcong] is not a bunch of guerillas in the forest, but a full-fledged government, with considerable light industry, including color printing, textile, etc. It includes communists in its leadership, but also a lot of non-communists, all united under one slogan: Drive out the Yankees and their puppets.

Their leader, a wiry, intense man a little younger than me, is a prominent writer, a man who knows literature of Europe and America well.’

18 March 1972
‘In the afternoon Toshi and I have a long interview with another writer our age, the head of the journalists’ association, Luu Quy Ky. Luu says that after the U.S. and puppets are defeated trouble is predicted in the south. And then he goes on, “There has been much corruption by the dollar. But we know that the job is to rebuild, not recriminate. Six hundred years ago, after we defeated the Mongol army of Kublai Khan, the king’s minister brought a large box into the court of the king. “This box,” he said, “contains names of all those who collaborated with the invader.” The King ordered the box to be burned, in full view of the court. So today, the NLF proposes that there be no reprisals against the puppet mercenaries.’

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks

Leonardo da Vinci, the great Florentine artist, scientist, inventor and designer, died half a millennium ago this very day. Celebrated the world over by historians and scholars as the ideal of the ‘Renaissance Man’, he outshines every other individual from history in terms of the range of his prodigious talent and legacy. Although he cannot be classed as a diarist, like his near Florentine contemporary Landucci Luca, who was one of the very earliest of European diarists, Leonardo was a prolific keeper of notebooks. Alas, these notebooks, sometimes called journals, contain little about his personal or private life, nor were most of the many thousands of pages that make up the notebooks ever dated. All but one of these journals are in major libraries or museums, and several of them have been fully digitised and can be viewed online.

Leonardo was born, an illegitimate child, in 1452 near the Tuscan hill-town of Vinci. His father had a flourishing legal practice in the city of Florence. Aged 14, Leonardo was apprenticed to the sculptor Andrea Verrocchio, and by 1472 he had joined the brotherhood of Florentine artists. He worked as an artist in Florence for a decade or so, but became increasingly interested in more technical uses for his drawing ability - such as for anatomy and engineering. In 1482, with permission from the ruling Sforza family, he moved to Milan, where he undertook many commissions for Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan (preparing floats and pageants for special occasions, for example, creating designs for a dome in Milan cathedral, and designing a model for a huge equestrian monument of his predecessor). In 1499, when the French invaded, he fled to Venice where he was employed as a military architect and engineer.

The next few years saw Leonardo back in Florence (though he spent some time in Cesena in the service of Cesare Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander VI, creating military maps). He rejoined the Guild of Saint Luke and spent two years designing and painting a mural of The Battle of Anghiari, with Michelangelo designing a companion piece. By 1508, he was back in Milan where he bought his own house. From 1513 to 1516, under Pope Leo X, he spent much of his time living in the Belvedere in the Vatican in Rome, where Raphael and Michelangelo were also employed. In 1516, he entered the service of King Francis I of France. He was given the use of the manor house Clos Lucé (now a public museum) in the Loire Valley close to the king’s residence, where he lived with his friend Count Francesco Melzi. Here, Leonardo died on 2 May 1519.

As one of the world’s most famous individuals in all of history, there is a wealth of information about Leonardo, his life and his work, available on the internet: Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, The National Gallery, a Leonardo dedicated site, The Art Story. And here is a random selection of some of the many articles/events celebrating the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death: The Telegraph, CNN, Royal Collection Trust, Fox News, i.Italy, National Geographic, The Guardian, The Getty Museum, Bodleian Libraries, Indian Express, The Louvre.

Astonishingly, only 15 artworks attributable to Leonardo have survived. However, he left behind a vast quantity of extraordinary notes and sketches (some 7,000 pages are extant). Over the centuries, these have been collated, and are now formally called his codices, but they are also referred to as his notebooks or journals. Although the world’s oldest diaries can be traced to Japan a millennium ago, the earliest diaries in Europe extant today started to appear in Florence, in fact, during the 15th century - particularly those kept by Landucci Luca and Nicolo Barbara. Leonardo’s notebooks cannot be considered diaries in the sense of comprising dated entries about his daily life, and yet the coincidence of Leonardo’s output coinciding with the first diaries is notable, as is their sheer volume (not to even mention their, literally, marvellous content).

According to Wikipedia, ‘Leonardo’s notes and drawings display an enormous range of interests and preoccupations, some as mundane as lists of groceries and people who owed him money and some as intriguing as designs for wings and shoes for walking on water. There are compositions for paintings, studies of details and drapery, studies of faces and emotions, of animals, babies, dissections, plant studies, rock formations, whirlpools, war machines, flying machines and architecture.’ According to the British Library (see below), its notebook features many topics ‘including mechanics, the flow of rivers, astronomy, optics, architecture and the flight of birds’. More specifically, it includes a study for an underwater breathing apparatus, studies of reflections from concave mirrors, and drawings for the design of a mechanical organ.

Almost all the codices are held by major collections such as the Royal Library at Windsor Castle, the Louvre, the Biblioteca Nacional de España, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan and the British Library. Bill Gates owns the only codex in private hands, and it is, apparently, displayed once a year in different cities around the world. Universal Leonardo is an excellent source for information about the codices, with a summary of their contents, their location, sample images etc. The initiative was launched back in 2006 by the Council of Europe and supported by Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. Led by Leonardo scholar Professor Martin Kemp from Oxford University and Professor Marina Wallace from Central Saint Martins it has aimed to be the most comprehensive set of exhibitions and website ever devoted to the Italian genius.

Most of Leonardo’s writings are in, what’s called, mirror-image cursive, making it very difficult to read; he also used a variety of shorthand and symbols. Conveniently, though, topics are covered with text and diagrams on single sheets - thus, as it happened, latter collation of the sheets was independent of missing pages or disorder. But that said, many of the single pages are confused in themselves. According to Dr Richter (see below): ‘A page, for instance, will begin with some principles of astronomy, or the motion of the earth; then come the laws of sound, and finally some precepts as to colour. Another page will begin with his investigations on the structure of the intestines, and end with philosophical remarks as to the relations of poetry to painting; and so forth.’ 

Content from Leonardo’s notebooks first appeared in English in 1883, when the publisher Samson Low et al brought out The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci by Dr Jean Paul Richter. Both volumes, 500-600 pages long, can be read freely at Internet Archive (vol. 1, vol. 2). Two decades later came Leonardo da Vinci’s Note-books - Arranged and rendered into English with Introductions by Edward McCurdy (sic) (Duckworth, 1906). And 30 years after that, the author revised his book, quadrupling its pages from 300 to over 1200 (in two volumes) and this time calling it The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci - Arranged, Rendered into English and Introduced by Edward MacCurdy (sic) (Jonathan Cape, 1938). The two volumes (vol. 1 and vol. 2) are also available at Internet Archive. Both Richter and McCurdy opted to arrange Leonardo’s writings in sections by topic (i.e. without relation to their codex source). In his first attempt, McCurdy chose to compile Leonardo’s writing in four main subject areas: life, nature, art, fantasy; 30 years later he opted for 50 topics and subjects. More recently, Oxford University Press has published Notebooks edited by Thereza Wells and Martin Kemp.

The Guardian, The Journaling Habit and Owlcation all have useful articles on Leonardo’s notebooks. Otherwise, several of the codices can be examined online in all their glorious detail: the British Library, for example, has digitised its holding, the Codex Arundel (Turning the Pages, full manuscript); and the Victoria & Albert Museum has done the same with its holding, the Codex Forster.