Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Pulsing like a python

‘I have just finished my modest airline nosh when Ali plops down beside me. He has short sleeves and his enormous bicep rests near mine with the vein in it pulsing like a python.’ This snippet about the boxer Muhammad Ali is from the gossipy and entertaining diaries of Irish writer and historian Ulick O’Connor who died three months ago.

O’Connor was born in 1928 in Rathgar, County Dublin, to the dean of the Royal College of Surgeons and his wife. He attended Catholic secondary school in Galway and Dublin counties, before studying law and philosophy at University College Dublin. He was keen on sports, especially boxing, rugby and cricket, and was an active member of the Literary and Historical Society. He went on to attend Loyola University, New Orleans, and was called to the Irish bar in 1951. Although he practised in Dublin until 1970, he increasingly turned to writing - biography, poetry, history and literary criticism - for his day job. He was a regular contributor on sport to various newspapers, but also published a regular poetry column.

O’Connor is best known for his  biographies of Oliver St. John Gogarty and Brendan Behan, for his studies of the early 20th-century Irish troubles and the Irish Literary Revival, and for several plays. He became something of a personality, appearing on radio and television as an outspoken commentator on social, cultural and political issues. He never married (see the Irish Mirror on incorrect rumours that he was gay), and lived to the age of 91. Further information is available at Wikipedia, The Irish Times or Ricorso.

O’Connor was a keen and interesting diarist. He decided to keep a diary, he said, so as ‘to keep an eye on myself and so as not to let material that might be useful to me as a writer be erased from memory’. His agent eventually suggested to John Murray that some extracts be published in book form. The Ulick O’Connor Diaries 1970-1981: a cavalier Irishman (with a foreword by Richard Ingrams) came out in 2001.

According to the publisher, O’Connor evokes ‘the streets and bars of Dublin with their now legendary characters, the world of the Abbey Theatre and that of the Gate Theatre’; he ‘recreates the atmosphere and talk of the Anglo-Irish country houses [. . .], where he often stayed as a guest of the Guinnesses and the Longfords’; and he ‘reveals the secret part he played as a go-between for the Taoiseach, Jack Lynch’. Furthermore, the diaries show him to be an inveterate traveller: ‘In New York he makes friends with Viva, the star of Andy Warhol’s infamous Blue Movie, he talks to Robert Kennedy and witnesses the anti-Vietnam protests and the growth of the Civil Rights movement. In London he appears on Wogan, in Tangiers he dines with Alec Waugh and Paul Bowles, and in Stockholm he plays a practical joke on Edna O’Brien that unhappily misfires. Ulick O’Connor’s diaries are funny and entertaining, gossipy and a good read.’ Here are several extracts, including the first.

3 January 1970
‘Peter Sellers, the film actor, at dinner, at Aileen [the Hon. Mrs Brinsley] Plunket’s, Lutterellstown Castle. Seems down after his separation from Britt Ekland. Tears stream down his cheeks.

‘Knife in my heart, excuse me if I cry.’

I suggest that all men cry for the lost belief in the goodness of womanhood. Lolita. He tells me that when Britt ran out of money, he went back to her.

‘I didn’t kick her when she was down.’

When I told him he looked in good shape he said he worked out in the gym every day with weights. Was this wise since he had had heart surgery? He said not only was it safe but it actually improved his condition. He had always been interested in sport anyway. He talked of his uncle Brian Sellers, Captain of Yorkshire and England Selector, who he said used to take him to matches when he was a small boy. I was surprised at this because I always assumed Peter was a Bow Bells boy. Not so. I am touched by his affection for Uncle Brian and put a note about the relationship in my Sunday Mirror column. Later I receive an angry note from Brian Sellers denying he is related to ‘that bloody little cockney’. How extraordinary to invent a sporting pedigree on the spur of the moment.’

23 November 1972
‘To Dublin Airport to see Jack Lynch off. He’s addressing the Oxford Union on the motion ‘That this House would favour Irish Unity.’ Hugh McCann, Secretary to the Department of Foreign Affairs, is on the tarmac when the Taoiseach gets on the steps to enter the plane. Lynch shakes my hand warmly and ignores McCann who is left with his paw ‘all bright and glittering in the smokeless air’. This is authentic Jackspeak.’

7 May 1973
‘To Washington to interview Teddy Kennedy. Arranged by John Hume through a Kennedy aide, Carey Parker. Washington in early summer is beautiful. Lush green trees lining the drives. Spectacular after New York, where in Central Park still the bare branches anatomize the sky.

Kennedy himself is well versed in Northern Ireland. He corrects me when I give the wrong number of internees in Long Kesh: ‘Around 2,000, I think.’ (I checked, he was right.)

He is on top of his brief. Would that his English counterparts were the same. I tell him I was on the Kennedy election plane on Bobby’s last jaunt, just before he died. He showed me a picture of Bobby in his Harvard football kit.

‘Great little guy wasn’t he.’

He looked wistful for a while. He has had two brothers cut down in their prime who, when he was a baby, used to affectionately toss him between them like a football, two handsome Micks with a dash and brightness that were specially theirs - all gone.’

14 April 1974
‘Flying back to New York from Chicago where I had gone to promote Irish Liberation on the Kupcinett Show, I pass a truly enormous black man in first class as I board. He is sitting with another black.

‘Hi,’ says Muhammad Ali, ‘How’s it going?’

I met Ali a number of times in the late Sixties and also covered his fight in Dublin in 1970 against Al Blue Lewis when we had become well acquainted over three weeks.

‘Come down and see you later,’ Ali said.

I have just finished my modest airline nosh when Ali plops down beside me. He has short sleeves and his enormous bicep rests near mine with the vein in it pulsing like a python.

‘I’d like to show you some poems.’

This is the guy that put Sonny Liston away in round two so I listen. To my credit, I don’t nod acquiescently but try to remain detached. Fortunately, two lines come up which I can approve:

The same road that connects two souls together
When stretched becomes a path to God.

I nod and he doesn’t stop for half an hour. His face is unlined, miraculously free from the damage that boxers can acquire. Of course, in the ring he bobs like a bamboo and it is almost impossible to land a clean punch on him. His ears are close to his head, neat and well formed. When he straightens up you can see his trousers stretched tightly over gigantic thighs, each more than two feet in circumference. I asked him was he never afraid he’d get shot when he was a Vietnam protester and had his title taken away from him because he wouldn’t join the army.

‘A true Muslim doesn’t fear, neither does he grieve. I was happier than I had ever been then in my little car, riding round the States. I never sold out. I was no Uncle Tom.’

He goes back to his chum. I don’t see him again till I am getting off the plane. He introduces me to the man he is with.

‘This is Kid Gavilan.’

I am impressed. Kid Gavilan is the inventor of the bolo punch and one of the great all-time world middleweight champions. Ali says he’ll give me a ride into town in his chauffeur-driven limousine. He sits in front while he puts me in the back of the car with the Kid who starts to sing for me, in Spanish, bits of a musical he is composing about the boxing ring. He says he was down and out recently in Alabama when Ali saw him at a petrol station where he was working and took him on board for a month’s holiday. As we roll into Manhattan, the Kid is singing away at his own songs, while Ali’s well shaped head rolls from side to side in the front seat. Out for the count.’

28 May 1974
‘Horrors on horror’s head accumulate. Hear at four o'clock that the Northern Ireland Assembly has been dissolved. Faulkner has resigned as Chief Executive. It seems the bullies have won. I go down to the Dail to see Jack Lynch. Meet Eugene Timmons TD in the hall. He seems to accept the news with equanimity. Then I see David Andrews. He does not seem as downcast as he should be (I wonder has he something up his sleeve?). Brian Lenihan passes us with a cheery smile. Then I go into the Dail chamber. Afterwards I meet Jack Lynch. Exhausted. He looks like an old man, shrunk. He puts off our meeting until Thursday. I go to discuss what’s happened with George Colley (former Minister for Finance). He says we were closer to trouble in 1969. I point out that then the British Army were regarded as peacekeepers by the Nationalists, now this is not so. Therefore the situation is significantly worse. Rory Brugha TD who is also with us remarks that the British will always suit themselves. George Colley says he thinks the real danger is unilateral declaration of independence by the Unionists. I suggest that we should consider sending in the Irish Army as a protective force with a view to getting the UN to come in at a later stage. The general feeling is that the Irish Army should have gone into Northern Ireland in 1969 after Lynch had said that the South would not ‘stand idly by’ when the Nationalist population in Northern Ireland were being attacked and burned out of their homes. If they had gone across the border at Derry then to protect civilians they could have remained in situ and refused to evacuate until the UN came in with a peacekeeping force.

My thinking. The British will now get very tough with the Unionists. They may cut Harland & Wolff’s subsidy and that of other industrial jewels in the British Crown.’

Monday, November 25, 2019

Happy with Signor

‘We have been two months a half married & never been away from each other for half an hour. I used to think I could not be happy unless I was much alone every day. Here I am never happy unless with Signor.’ This is Mary Watts, newly married to the English painter George Frederic Watts, who she called Signor, writing in a diary that he suggested she keep. There was a wide age range between them - Watts was fast approaching 70 - but their marriage was happy, and Mary herself went on to become an artist of some renown. Her diaries, not published until recently, provide much information into life with Watt’s but also invaluable insights into her own achievements.

Mary Seton Fraser Tytler was born in Bombay, India, on 25 November 1849, the daughter of East India Company employees. Her mother died soon after, and so she was sent to Scotland and raised by grandparents. Early in 1870, she began to study art in Dresden but later the same year enrolled at the South Kensington School of Art. It was also the year she first met the painter G. F. Watts, who became her unofficial tutor. During 1872 and 1873, she studied sculpture at the Slade School of Art, though she became known as a portrait painter, associated with Julia Margaret Cameron and the Freshwater community. She worked some of the time for the Home Arts and Industries Association, an organisation which aimed to revive traditional rural crafts, and she ran classes in clay modelling.

In 1886, Mary and Watts married despite a 33 year difference in their ages (he was 69). The couple adopted an orphan, Lilian, who would eventually inherit their estate. Mary continued to play a leading role in the Home Arts and Industries Association and from the 1890s taught pottery to large numbers of local people in the village of Compton where the couple had built a country residence called Limnerslease. She went on to establish the commercially successful Potters’ Arts Guild and designed an award-winning range of garden pottery. She designed, built, and maintained the Watts Mortuary Chapel in Compton; and had built and maintained the Watts Gallery for the preservation of her husband’s work. She was a pioneer of the Celtic revival, in carpets, book-bindings, metalwork, and textiles for Liberty & Co. being based on her earlier designs at the Watts Chapel. Later in life, she wrote The Word in the Pattern and completed a three-volume biography of her husband, Annals of an Artist’s Life. She died in 1938. Further information is available from the Watts Gallery, Wikipedia, National Portrait Gallery, Mapping Sculpture, Artistic Miscellany, and David Hill’s paper on Mary Watts and the Chapel.

On marrying Watts, Mary became an avid diarist and filled many volumes - each known affectionately as ‘Fatima’ - with musings on art and society as well as with the details of her day-to-day life with a celebrated artist. However, it took until 2016 for these diaries to be made public, partly because her handwriting was so difficult to read. Edited by Desna Greenhow and published by Lund Humphries in association with the Watts Gallery, The Diary of Mary Watts 1887-1904: Victorian progressive and artistic visionary also includes detailed annotations, an introductory essay and short intros for each year of diary entries. According to the publisher, the ‘book chronicles life in the artistic, literary and political circles of the time, while also providing invaluable insights into Mary’s own achievements - most notably her management of the building and decorating of her unique Watts Cemetery Chapel.’

In her introduction, Greenhow notes: ‘Watts suggested, in the first few weeks of their marriage, that [Mary] should write a diary, chronicling their daily life together. It turned out to be a cementing element in their relationship, and a fascinating document in its own right. Most importantly, Mary wrote it for herself, not anticipating sharing it with the world or with anyone else. This is clear by the tiny, difficult handwriting, and its voluminous nature. It has not been completely transcribed until now, more than a hundred years after it was written.‘Signor’, as Watts was nicknamed, never tried to read it, and so it remained a narrative by Mary with herself, about their relationship and on the joint lives they led.’ A review of the book can be read in Life Writing. Here are several extracts.

26 January 1887
‘When I looked for my dear one’s hands this morning, I found them both crossed upon his breast. I said ‘Don’t do that, Signor’ & he, ‘I often lie so’. ‘Oh, don’t’ I said ‘it is too much like “Well done, thou good & faithful servant.” ’ When I next touched his cheek it was wet with quiet tears.

My dear one has painted & sketched some figures, such nice, great lines he sees in all these people. I feel as if I was blind in comparison to him. I am trying to read in the new book he has opened to me.’

4 February 1887
‘We have been two months a half married & never been away from each other for half an hour. I used to think I could not be happy unless I was much alone every day. Here I am never happy unless with Signor.

‘Are you really not longing to be alone?’ he asked me, ‘not finding drawbacks? Ah, just as you expected, & yet you expected a very great deal. You make your own happiness out of what I have to give you, which is nothing.’ ’

7 February 1887
‘Drew some hasty lines of drapery. Signor begs me to do it as often as possible.

‘The eye gets as it were in tune with the law of form & line, & by constant study, even hasty notes, the mind acquires that knowledge of the natural law, which is necessary for the ideal.’ ’

26 April 1887
‘He began, because his hand was wearied by idleness, a sketch in oil, of me. Painted straight off, in four colours, on single prime canvas with white, light red, burnt & raw umber, a lovely flesh colour. It was all drawn in burnt umber, which is a very good useful colour but must be used carefully, transparently, over light ground or else it darkens & becomes very heavy. Talking of painting with varnish, Signor says that it must be used with the white ground & again with the colour.’

26 October 1887
‘We went to pay a visit to Burne Jones, he & she, & we sat together in their little drawing room & did not go to the studio. They have Michelangelo’s Night & Morning, which Signor does not care for. Mr Burne Jones stood up for them. Signor thinks M.A. the greatest of all artists, but his sculpture by no means on a level with the painting. He thinks he was prevented by the obstinacy of his material from dashing in his thoughts (his wax sketches as fine as can be). From there we went to Holman Hunt & saw his very impressive picture of the Flight into Egypt, with all its strange ugliness of surface, flesh made of a hard stable material reflecting every sort of colour, wh. makes a most unlovely impression. The dignity & moral influence of his work always surprises me.’

26 April 1891
‘Sir Frederic, our first & faithful visitor. He & Signor had much to say about mediums. Macbeth & Fildes have been using Petroleum, Fildes the common kitchen stuff & Macbeth the rectified, prepared by a man in Great Queen Street, where their colours are ground with it. Signor has long used Rock oil, prepared by Bell in Oxford Street, & a small quantity of Linseed oil, to prevent its too rapid evaporation. Millais they think uses Spike oil, & Sir F., rectified spirits of turpentine. Sir Fred, is sorry & angry with Mr Richmond for having abstained two years from going near the Academy, at this time of friendly meeting. It is a pity that men who think that they regard art from a more serious point of view than seventy members, should not feel bound to go & mix their light with the lamp, & try to support Sir Frederic, who said today, wearily, that it was no sinecure.’

20 November 1891
‘Our 6th wedding day, & we began to keep it at one a.m. when Signor spoke to me, & I told him it was the morning of the 20th. Half waking, we blessed each other, but later, after I had been up some time at my writing table, he came out with my cup of hot drinking water, & stood smiling at me with a sort of supreme & sudden consciousness of my happiness with him, & said ‘Well, are you pretty happy?’ I had to tell him that he was too stuck up & full of pride, & that I was on the contrary a very miserable woman! On the breakfast table were two books & a dear letter from Choons with hers & Edward’s blessing.

He & Mrs Guild worked silently side by side from luncheon time till half past four, forgetting each other, till she, poor thing, over-tired, was overcome by an access of fear, & mistrust of Agnew’s promises, & Signor was disturbed, & not able to comfort her.’

2 November 1891
‘Ethel & I left the workers in the studio alone all morning, & when luncheon time came we found they had been on each others’ nerves. Mrs Guild could not come to luncheon, being in tears, Signor not being able to refrain from urging her not to lose her clear edges, & she in her highly nervous state having wept at his saying it makes the difference between refinement or vulgarity in work’.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

He is a very great man

‘[Lloyd George] returned from his interview with Hitler in great form, very delighted with his talk and obviously very much struck with Hitler. ‘He is a very great man,’ said L.G. ‘ “Führer” is the proper name for him, for he is a born leader, yes, and statesman.’ This is from the private diary of Albert James Sylvester, born 130 years ago today, who was David Lloyd George’s personal assistant for many years, not least organising many trips in Britain and overseas - as here to Germany in 1936. After Lloyd George’s death, Sylvester drew on his own diary for a biography of the Liberal statesman, but it was only with publication of the diary itself, some two decades later, that the full extent of Sylvester’s revelations about Lloyd George, albeit in his declining years, emerged.

Sylvester was born on 24 November 1889 in Harlaston, Staffordshire. When his father lost his independence as a tenant farmer, the family moved to Burton-on-Trent where he became a brewery farm worker. Albert left school at 14 to become a brewery clerk, but worked hard at night classes to perfect his shorthand and typing. He moved to London, aged 20, where he competed successfully in fast shorthand and typing competitions becoming a member of the British international fast typewriting team. In 1912-1913, he travelled to India and Burma as assistant reporter for the Royal Commission on the Public Services. He set up as a freelance shorthand-writer in Chancery Lane, but with the onset of war he was brought into the Admiralty on a temporary assignment. Soon after, he was employed by Maurice Hankey, a senior civil servant (see Dreadful meetings), after a while becoming his private secretary.

Sylvester was Secretary to the Committee of Imperial Defence, 1914–1921, Secretary of the War Cabinet and the Cabinet, 1916–1921, Secretary of the Imperial War Cabinet, 1917, and British Secretary to the Paris Peace Conference, 1919. He served as private secretary, briefly, to three successive Prime Ministers, 1921-1923, but thereafter ran Lloyd George’s private London office (which, at its peak, had a staff of 20) until his death. Apart from other duties, Sylvester coordinated many of Lloyd George’s overseas visits (to Brazil, Europe, Morocco) and tours of Britain. After Lloyd George’s death, Sylvester was employed by Lord Beaverbrook from 1945 until 1948, and spent a further year as unpaid assistant to the Liberal Party leader, Clement Davies. In 1949, he retired from political life, and moved to a farm at Corsham, Wiltshire, where he served as Justice of the Peace. In old age, he worked extensively on an autobiography, but the project was never completed. He died just a few weeks short of his 100th birthday in 1989. A little further information is available online at The National Library of Wales and Wikipedia.

Sylvester was an inveterate note keeper, but only an intermittent diarist, at least until 1931: from then on, though, he kept (
in shorthand for reasons of speed and privacy) a more or less continuous diary which, never meant for publication, is remarkably frank. After Lloyd George’s death, Sylvester used it for writing his book The Real Lloyd George (1947). Despite the title, he omitted some personal material and toned down other revelations. He was spurred to publish the diary itself after Lloyd George’s second wife, Frances, brought out, in 1967, an autobiography which he, Sylvester, felt was over-romanticised. Life with Lloyd George: The Diary of A. J. Sylvester 1931-45 was edited by Colin Cross and published by Macmillan 1975. A short review can be read in The American Historical Review.

Here are several extracts from Sylvester’s diary as published by Macmillan.

22 July 1935
‘I have spent a very busy weekend on a memorandum by L.G. in answer to the Government, to be issued to the Press today. He phoned me at 7.30 a.m. giving me additions, one of which was: ‘Most of their document is taken up, not with an examination of my scheme, but with a torchlight procession of their own achievements in every sphere of activity.’

At 11.15 a.m. I accompanied L.G. to the large committee room at the House of Commons, where there was a big gathering of journalists, to whom I distributed the relevant documents. For the next hour, he reeled off answers to the questions which poured in on him. Afterwards I lunched with L.G., Dick and Gwilym at the Harcourt Room at the House. L.G. said as he was leaving the meeting one of the lobby correspondents had come up and said: ‘Would you mind telling me what is the lotion you use which keeps you so fit?’ L.G. said: ‘I answered John Power.’ (Sir Henry Fildes has just brought him a bottle of John Power Irish whiskey for him to try.)

4 September 1936
‘Each morning at 7.30, I go in to see L.G. and later help him to dress. He repeated this morning that he was astonished to find that Tom Jones had changed so much. He did not like him sticking up for the rebels in Spain.

Lord Dawson, T.J. and I talked in the drawing-room. Lord Dawson said he had been very much impressed by Ribbentrop. Anyone more unlike an ambassador he had never seen. If he spoke like he had last night, even to the extent of 50 per cent, he would not be a success. Lord Dawson was amused by the way Ribbentrop had said that he and his wife were not married according to the Church. Ribbentrop had said that rather warily, wondering how the company would take it. He had felt his way and sought to put himself right by saying he had mentioned the matter to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

LG. returned at noon from a talk with Ribbentrop. He said that Ribbentrop wanted to go too far. He wanted to organise a great anti-Bolshevik front. We would not join that. We would not have anyone make a wanton attack on Germany, or France or anyone else.
The whole of our party lunched with Ribbentrop and his wife in the Grand Hotel. In addition there were several high officials from the Foreign Office in Berlin. L.G. said he could not understand why the Germans had signed the Armistice. That had certainly been a mistake on their part. Ribbentrop said that Hitler would not have signed it. During coffee L.G. talked about the war with terrific energy until I thought, at 3 p.m. it was high time he broke up the party and had a rest before seeing Hitler. But he would not do so and still went on, despite the fact that at 4 p.m. he was due for one of the greatest interviews of his life. Yet, if I had asked him for a little instruction, he would have said that I was working him to death.

L.G. returned from his interview with Hitler in great form, very delighted with his talk and obviously very much struck with Hitler. ‘He is a very great man,’ said L.G. ‘ “Führer” is the proper name for him, for he is a born leader, yes, and statesman.’ He said that Hitler was not in favour of rearmament or conscription. They did not make him popular with his own people. He favoured productive measures, such as roads, in which he was very interested, and improved agriculture. What had struck L.G. very much was that Hitler had been much more enthusiastic when talking about these latter things. ‘We talked about everything,’ said L.G., ‘including Spain. I talked with great bluntness and frankness and the Führer liked it.’

J produced a whiskey and water for L.G., and when he had taken this Lord Dawson said to him: ‘If you want to get full benefit of that, go and rest for half an hour’, which he did.

The whole of our party dined with the Ribbentrops and their entourage. Ribbentrop asked L.G. about Winston. L.G. replied that he was a rhetorician and not an orator. He thought only of how a phrase sounded and not how it might move or influence crowds. The question for every Prime Minister was whether Winston was more dangerous inside or outside the Cabinet.’

29 September 1936
‘I have been sizing up a row which has suddenly developed between L.G. and Frances. Yesterday morning he packed his bags and came up from Churt alone in the car. Frances has been on the telephone a number of times to me, and I am trying to straighten it out.’

24 November 1939
‘My fiftieth birthday today. God help me and mine. In looking back across half a century, help me, God, to see the mistakes and my follies, and in the future help me to trust in Thee more and give me health and strength, wisdom and determination to achieve something worth while for my fellow men, as well as for myself and to Thy honour. Help me to be effective.’

12 December 1940
‘This afternoon, while the House was in session at Church House, I got news that Lord Lothian had died. I immediately put through a priority telephone call to L.G. and spoke to him personally at Criccieth. He was flabbergasted. He said: ‘I feel as if a shell had fallen at my feet and numbed me. I am glad I saw him. I do not think I noted anything particular about him: he had not quite the vitality which he had. You know how vital he was.’ 

I said: ‘You know that already your name is being mentioned as his successor.’ 'Ah,’ he said, ‘that would involve a great physical strain.’

I am completely tired of L.G.’s mucking about. The man is doing nothing for his country, and he is just living amongst the clouds, quarrelling with everybody. He has just quarrelled with Willie the gardener at Brynawelon. Willie just went into the kitchen and wrote out his resignation, and sent it upstairs to Dame Margaret. When she asked him to reconsider his decision, he refused. It all arose out of the heating-pipes not been sufficiently warm, according to L.G. Dyer told me that he cursed Willie in Welsh. Workmen were working downstairs in the air-raid shelter and heard it. They were chapel people and had no idea that L.G. could swear and were very shocked. That has gone the round of Criccieth. L.G.’s stock has gone down since he has been living here . .  .’

Friday, November 22, 2019

Gide’s self-scrutiny

Today marks the 150th anniversary of André Gide’s birth. A Nobel Prize winner, and one of France’s great writers, Gide was also an avid diarist. His diaries are promoted as containing notes about his own compositions, ‘aesthetic appreciations, philosophic reflections, sustained literary criticism’, details of his personal life, and comments on the events of the day, from the Dreyfus case (see History unmasks all secrets) to the German occupation. Gide’s translator, Justin O’Brien, says he had a habit of ‘spiritual self-scrutiny’, and Gide himself wrote about how his friend Paul Valéry thought him entangled in ‘pietism and sentimentality’.

Gide was born in Paris on 22 November 1869, but was brought up in Normandy, where he was tutored at home, and where he was often ill. His father was a Paris University professor of law who died when André was only 11, and his uncle was a political economist. During 1893-94, he travelled in north Africa, meeting Oscar Wilde in Algiers, and began trying to accept his own homosexuality. He also had a fall and was gravely ill.

In 1895, after his mother’s death, Gide married his cousin Madeleine Rondeaux but the marriage was never consummated. Although homosexual, Gide did have a daughter, Catherine, in 1923, with Maria Van Rysselberghe. In 1896, he became mayor of a commune in Normandy, and later he was also a juror in Rouen.

Gide’s Fruits of the Earth appeared in 1897 and was to become one of his most popular works, influencing later writers, such as Camus and Sartre. In it, he preached a doctrine of active hedonism. In later novels, though, he was more careful to examine the problems of individual freedom and responsibility from different points of view. In 1909, Gide helped found the influential literary magazine The New French Review, which published many of his essays.

From the mid-1920s, Gide began to work for social reforms, demanding more humane conditions for criminals for example. Between 1925 and 1927, he travelled with his friend Marc Allegret, to the Congo; and, from 1942 until the end of the Second World War, he lived in North Africa. His fame grew in the 1940s, and in 1947 he was awarded the Nobel Prize. See Encyclopaedia Britannica or Wikipedia for further biographical information.

Gide wrote a diary most of his life, and the famous French publisher Gallimard was already publishing collections of the journals in French by the late 1930s. A four volume set translated into English and annotated by Justin O’Brien was published in the late 1940s and early 1950s by Secker & Warburg, London, and Alfred Knopf, New York. Some 50 years later, the University of Illinois Press  republished these editions in paperback (translated from the French and with an introduction and notes by Justin O'Brien) - all of which are available to preview at Googlebooks: Journals: 1889-1913; Journals: 1914-1927; Journals: 1928-1939; Journals: 1939-1949.

Here is the publisher’s promotional blurb: ‘Beginning with a single entry for the year 1889, when he was twenty, and continuing intermittently but indefatigably through his life, the Journals of André Gide constitute an enlightening, moving, and endlessly fascinating chronicle of creative energy and conviction. Astutely and thoroughly annotated by Justin O’Brien in consultation with Gide himself, this translation is the definitive edition of Gide’s complete journals. The complete journals, representing sixty years of a varied life, testify to a disciplined intelligence in a constantly maturing thought. These pages contain aesthetic appreciations, philosophic reflections, sustained literary criticism, notes for the composition of his works, details of his personal life and spiritual conflicts, accounts of his extensive travels, and comments on the political and social events of the day, from the Dreyfus case to the German occupation. Gide records his progress as a writer and a reader as well as his contacts and conversations with the bright lights of contemporary Europe, from Paul Valéry, . . . Auguste Rodin to Marcel Proust . . . Devoid of affectation, alternately overtaken by depression and animated by a sense of urgency and hunger for literature and beauty, Gide read voraciously, corresponded voluminously, and thought profoundly, always questioning and doubting in search of the unadulterated truth. ‘The only drama that really interests me and that I should always be willing to depict anew,’ he wrote, ‘is the debate of the individual with whatever keeps him from being authentic, with whatever is opposed to his integrity, to his integration. Most often the obstacle is within him. And all the rest is merely accidental.’ ’

Otherwise, there is surprisingly little information about Gide’s diaries freely available online, at least that I can find. There’s one interesting article by the esteemed Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk published by Social Research in 2004 (summary available here); and another, by O’Brien on Gide’s Fictional Technique (summary available here), which suggests a link between Gide’s diary writing and his fiction. Here is the relevant paragraph:

‘The use of direct narration and especially of the diary form has obvious advantages and disadvantages. Its appearance in so many of André Gide’s works - even in [Les Faux-Monnayeurs (The Counterfeiters)] he will have a novelist character commenting on events in his own diary - suggests that the journal is Gide’s form par excellence and that his imaginative works might almost be considered to be extracted from his own Journals. It would be more just to say that the habit of spiritual self-scrutiny contracted during his pious childhood and reinforced by the fairly regular keeping of his own diary has caused him to make his characters indulge in the same practice.’

And, finally, here are several extracts from Gide’s diary.

3 January 1892
‘Shall I always torment myself thus and will my mind never, O Lord, come to rest in any certainty? Like an invalid turning over in his bed in search of sleep, I am restless from morning till night, and at night my anxiety awakens me.

I am anxious to know what I shall be; I do not even know what I want to be, but I do know that I must choose. I should like to progress on safe and sure roads that lead only to the point where I have decided to go. But I don’t know; I don’t know what I ought to want. I am aware of a thousand possibilities in me, but I cannot resign myself to want to be only one of them. And every moment, at every word I write, at each gesture I make, I am terrified at the thought that this is one more ineradicable feature of my physiognomy becoming fixed: a hesitant, impersonal physiognomy, an amorphous physiognomy, since I have not been capable of choosing and tracing its contours confidently.

O Lord, permit me to want only one thing and to want it constantly.

A man’s life is his image. At the hour of death we shall be reflected in the past, and, leaning over the mirror of our acts, our souls will recognize what we are. Our whole life is spent in sketching an ineradicable portrait of ourselves. The terrible thing is that we don’t know this; we do not think of beautifying ourselves. We think of it in speaking of ourselves; we flatter ourselves; but later our terrible portrait will not flatter us. We recount our lives and lie to ourselves, but our life will not lie; it will recount our soul, which will stand before God in its usual posture.

This can therefore be said, which strikes me as a kind of reverse sincerity (on the part of the artist): Rather than recounting his life as he has lived it, he must live his life as he will recount it. In other words, the portrait of him formed by his life must identify itself with the ideal portrait he desires. And, in still simpler terms, he must be as he wishes to be.’

30 July 1928
‘At times it seems to me, alas! that I have passed the best time for writing. I feel painfully in arrears with myself. And if you wish me to say: in arrears with God, I don’t mind doing so, all the same. This simply means that I sometimes fear having waited too long, that I fear not only lacking time, but also fervor and that unsubdued exigence of thought that urges it to manifest itself. You resign yourself to silence, and nothing is more to be feared from old age than a sort of taciturn resignation. Even of those we most admire and know best, who can claim that we know the best and that they were permitted to say what mattered most to them? Just when one would like to speak, voice fails one and, when it returns, one expresses but memories of thoughts. Montaigne’s strength comes from the fact that he always writes on the spur of the moment, and that his great lack of confidence in his memory, which he believes to be bad, dissuades him from putting off anything that comes to mind with a view to a more skillful and better- ordered presentation. I have always counted too much on the future and had recourse to too much rhetoric.’

27 September 1929
‘Reread, before giving them to be typed, some notebooks of my prewar journal. What interests me most in them today is finding, over so long a period of time and so late, moral constraint and effort. How long I had to struggle! What dull steppes I have crossed!

I have rather well (and very happily) noted down certain conversations with Claudel. I send a copy of them to Groethuysen, with whom, just yesterday, I spoke at great length about Claudel. The latter is going to found and edit a review, it appears: a Thoinist and orthodox review, which will print only the purest representatives of Catholic literature of today. There will remain, for the N.R.F., only the free-thinking elements. After which people will be surprised that it seems tendentious! . . .

I felt extraordinarily well yesterday, cheerful, and fit for work. Had forgotten my age. This is just what I had gone to the baths for.
But I let myself slip into smoking too much.

The ugliness, the vulgarity of the people in the metro covers me with gloom. Oh, to go back among the Negroes! . . .

Hardly did a thing all day worth mentioning. Sat dazed before the pile of copies of Un Esprit non prévenu, which I received four days ago already and which I ought to send out. Courage fails me in the face of the dedications to write.’

28 October 1929
‘In bed since Friday evening. A sort of colonial diarrhea; that is, bleeding. Starvation diet. A few griping pains, but bearable after all. Impression of a crossing (with possible shipwreck), having broken off all connections with the outer world, or at least with society. An excellent excuse for refusing invitations and failing to receive any but a few intimate friends. No worry about going out even to get my meals. A very long and unbroken succession of hours, of undifferentiated hours. I hardly dare confess how delighted I am, for fear of seeming affected. The conventional is the only thing that never looks like ‘pose’. I shall finally be able to finish Der Zauberberg! [The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann].

But before getting back to it; for I am still a bit too weak for that effort (in two days I have lost almost a quart of blood and eaten nothing since Friday morning), I am reading Maxime by Duvernois - much less good than Edgar and a few others - then launch into Le Soulier de Satin [The Satin Slipper by Paul Claudel].

Yesterday a visit from [Paul] Valéry. He repeats to me the fact that, for many years now, he has written only on order and urged on by a need for money.

‘That is to say that, for some time, you have written nothing for your own pleasure?’

‘For my own pleasure?’ he continues. ‘But my pleasure consists precisely in writing nothing. I should have done something other than writing, for my own pleasure. No, no; I have never written anything, and I never write anything, save under compulsion, forced to, and cursing against it.’

He tells me with admiration (or at least with an astonishment full of consideration) about Dr de Martel, who has just saved his wife; about the tremendous amount of work that he succeeds in getting through every day and about the sort of pleasure, of intoxication even, that he can get from a successful operation and even from the mere fact of operating.

‘It is also the intoxication of abnegation,’ I say. At this word abnegation Valéry pricks up his ears, leaps very amusingly from his chair to my bedside, runs to the hall doorm, and, leaning out, shouts:

‘Bring some ice! Boy, bring some ice! The patient is raving . . . He is ‘abnegating’!’

At many a point in the conversation I am aware that he thinks me quite entangled in pietism and sentimentality.’

This article is a revised version of one first published 10 years ago on 22 November 2009.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Happy birthday Suez Canal

‘The scene before us was full of life and animation. Down at our feet a very Babel was at work - men loading the animals from the deep pits in which they were toiling, to a wild accompaniment of sounds, in which the moaning roars of the camel and the braying of donkeys rose above the cries of the workmen.’ This is William Howard Russell, a well-known journalist of the day, describing the Suez Canal under construction. He was travelling with the Prince and Princess of Wales on their tour to the Middle East to see the Canal, and kept a diary of the journey. The Canal would open officially a few months after their visit, on 17 November 1869, 150 years ago today.

The Suez Canal, which extends 100 miles (163 km) from Port Said to the Gulf of Suez, connects the Red Sea with the eastern Mediterranean Sea, thus allowing vessels to sail directly between the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean. It was built by the French-owned Suez Canal Co, and completed in 1869 after a decade of construction. Its completion was a cause for considerable celebration: in Port Said there was a firework extravaganza and a ball attended by 6,000 people, including many heads of state. Two convoys of ships started from its southern and northern points and met at Ismailia, half way along the canal, and the partying is said to have continued for weeks.

Because of external debts, the British government purchased the shares owned by Egyptian interests in 1875, although France retained a majority interest. Under the terms of an international convention signed in 1888, the canal was opened to vessels of all nations without discrimination, in peace and war. But Britain, which considered the Canal vital to the maintenance of its maritime power and colonial interests, won the right (through the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936) to maintain a defensive force along the canal zone.

This situation lasted until 1954, when demands by Egyptian nationalists led to a new agreement under which British troops would be withdrawn over a seven year period. Only two of those years passed before Egypt nationalised the Canal, and set up the Suez Canal Authority to run it. The seizure by Egypt led to Britain, France and Israel occupying the canal zone, and preparing a plan to invade the rest of the country. The Suez Crisis, as it is now known, was eventually resolved through the United Nations, which mandated its first peace-keeping force to ensure access to the canal. It was closed again in 1967, as a result of the Six-Day War, and remained inoperative until 1975.

The Suez Canal Authority today says the canal is one of the most heavily used shipping lanes, and one of the most important waterways in the world; and tolls paid by vessels ‘represent an important source of income for the Egyptian government’. The Authority’s website provides a lot of useful information about the canal today, as well as a good outline of its history.

For a first hand report of the Canal’s opening, it is worth visiting The Engineer’s website, and its archive copy of the magazine dating from 1869 wherein is a long dispatch by ‘a special correspondent’. There is, however, an interesting diary from that year, kept by a journalist, William Howard Russell, who travelled with the Prince and Princess of Wales (the future King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) on a tour to the Middle East specifically to inspect the Suez Canal.

Russell, born in 1820, was an Irish reporter with The Times. His dispatches by the newly-invented telegraph from the Crimea are considered to be among the first ‘live’ war reports, and are even thought by some to have prompted the resignation of the British government (by revealing the lacklustre nature of the British forces). In the 1869 General Election, Russell ran unsuccessfully as a Conservative candidate for the borough of Chelsea. He did not retire, though, as a war correspondent until 1882, when he founded the Army and Navy Gazette. He was knighted in 1895, and died in 1907.

A short description of the royal tour is contained in The life of Sir William Howard Russell by John Black Atkins, published in 1911, and available at Internet Archive. Here is the relevant passage: ‘At the beginning of 1869 [Russell] had the honour of being invited to join the Prince and Princess of Wales in their tour in Egypt and the Near East. The Duke of Sutherland, Russell and others joined the Ariadne which was specially fitted out as a Royal yacht, at Trieste. Russell did not take part in the whole of the Prince’s journey up the Nile, but rejoined the Royal party about the middle of March at Cairo. Re-starting after a week in Cairo, the Prince and his friends were shown the Suez Canal by Lesseps. At that time the works were incomplete, but the Prince opened the sluices which filled the basin of the Bitter Lakes. From Alexandria the journey was continued in the Ariadne to Constantinople, and so on to Sebastopol. Only some 6,000 persons were living in the town which before the Crimean War had contained over 60,000. It may be imagined how Russell drew upon his memories to retell for the Prince and Princess the stories of the Alma, Balaclava, and Inkerman, and to reconstruct the terror and the pity of the plateau. From the Black Sea the Ariadne steamed to Brindisi by way of Athens and Corfu.

And here are some passages from Russell’s diary of that journey, taken from A Diary in the East, During the Tour of the Prince and Princess of Wales, published by Routledge in that same year, 1869. Originals of the book can be found on Abebooks, costing upwards of £50, but it is also freely available to view and download at Internet Archive (in two volumes).

25 March 1869
‘The Royal party started at 9am, and ran down by rail to the pier, where the works of the Canal Company are being carried forward - a large dock, 420 feet long, being already completed. They went on board an English tug, and steamed round the Mole and as far up the Canal as they could. M de Lesseps, M Borel, and M La Pousse, who were of the party, explained the object of the principal works. The party returned in the tug at 10.30 to the Hotel to breakfast. At 11.30 they left and entered the special train for Ismailia; guards of honour turned out, military bands playing, salutes fired, and all Egyptian and European officials attending their Royal Highnesses to the carriages at the station.

The train arrived at Chalouf in about half-an-hour, where all alighted, and crossing the Sweetwater Canal on a ferry-platform, proceeded along the banks of the Maritime Canal for about two miles, the Princess and Mrs Grey in a pony-carriage with M de Lesseps, the rest on horses.

There is a deep cutting here, in which camels, asses, mules, and men are busily engaged removing the sand and debris. The Timsah lake and the other finished sections do not strike one so forcibly as the aspect of the uncompleted labours of the workmen. The parts of the Canal already fit for traffic have not very much to attract one in the way of sight-seeing. Labour shuns the work it has done; but here we can inspect the nature of the task which was set for those who grappled with the undertaking at the beginning.

The inspection lasted an hour; then the party continued the journey in the train, and at 1pm got out by the banks of the old Sweetwater Canal, where two small steam launches were waiting. They went on to Serapeum, where they were met on landing by Mme Charles de Lesseps, Mme and Mdlle Guichard, Mme Borel, Mdlle Voisin, M Lavalley, and others. They walked through the little town which is springing up here, to the Maritime Canal, where they embarked in steam launches, and started for the Great Dam, through the sluices of which the Mediterranean is being let into the Bitter Lakes.

The scene before us was full of life and animation. Down at our feet a very Babel was at work - men loading the animals from the deep pits in which they were toiling, to a wild accompaniment of sounds, in which the moaning roars of the camel and the braying of donkeys rose above the cries of the workmen. The asses, poor little brutes, go in strings up and down the cutting at a quick step. The camel, on the contrary, paces up and down the declivities with immense gravity and aplomb. The ass stands whilst the Arabs are filling the sacks on his back. The camel kneels. The engineers calculate that a camel will carry one-fifth of a cubic metre of sand, and that he is only able to do the work of two asses, pompous and pretentious as he is.

Having inspected the Dam and the vast space to be inundated, some of the sluices were raised, to let in the water, which rushed rapidly into the bed of the Bitter Lakes; and the party having enjoyed the sight embarked, proceeded by the Canal to Lake Timsah (which they entered at 5.15pm), and reached Ismailia by 6 o’clock. At the landing-place there was a triumphal arch erected, and a crowd of all the colonists and troops lining the road. The Prince and Princess got into basket-carriages with large flat wheels and four horses - the rest of the party on horseback - and were escorted through the principal thoroughfares by a respectful cavalcade.

If the Suez Canal never produced any greater result, such an extraordinary city would be a remarkable development. Every one who takes the smallest interest in what is going on outside the limits of these islands, knows something about the general plan of the Suez Canal, but without a personal visit it is impossible to conceive how wonderful this little city really is. On the borders of the newly-created Lake, there lie stretched out magazines, storehouses, cafes, restaurants, boulevards, church, cemetery, set in a border of bright verdure fresh and blooming. The limits are sand and rock, the veritable Desert itself. Wood can be worked by Egyptian carpenters and French designers into pretty and fanciful outsides, and the necessity of procuring as much air as possible, and of keeping out sunshine and dust, conspire to the production of such fantastic contrivances in architecture, that, on the whole, the chalets are like nothing that I have ever seen. And then the gardens, where there are growing in their newly-found homes the banana, the orange, the cactus, and tropical plants in great abundance, form a charming ornament, and contribute to the light and graceful aspect of the town. Indeed, the houses on the Esplanade, facing the Sweetwater Canal, and looking out upon Lake Timsah and the water front, put one in mind of an exquisite bit of scenery on the stage, or one of those elaborate toys, in detached pieces, got up by cunning workmen for the amusement of the children of the great. The city has all the Desert around it to expatiate upon, and no one can say to what extent it may reach. On the map, its well-defined lines, with broad squares and streets, stretching out into mathematical points, which have no parts, look almost too grandiose. All of this - the town, the people who inhabit it, the trees, the grass - depend on one work - the Sweetwater Canal. Dry up that, and they wither and die. . .’

26 March 1869
‘. . . The Suez Canal is not made. There is a considerable amount of work still to be done. But the conception of M de Lesseps is raised out of the limbo of possibilities. The project for the junction of two seas is already in a condition to admit of a probability that the remaining part, being the easier portion, will be completed by the 11th of October.* The commercial success can only be determined by the experience of a term of years after the canal has been opened. No opinion can be safely offered on the point. If the route be conducive to the interests of commerce, no national jealousies or private interests can prevent its stream flowing through the canal at a great profit to the shareholders. The freight which the Company proposes to charge is at the rate of 10f a ton transit duty on all actual cargo, excluding provisions for the crew, dead weight, stores, &c; and the sum saved on a voyage to the East Indies would be equivalent to the total insurance on the ship, without counting the time saved, cost of the crew in food and wages, and wear and tear of material. It may be said, and with some truth, that it is too early for any speculation until the canal is open; but it is not too early to remark how complete has been the failure of sinister prophecies. . .’  * The footnote reads: ‘The opening, as the world knows, is now fixed for 17th November.’

Happy birthday Suez Canal!

This article is a revised version of one first published 10 years ago on 17 November 2009.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Toast, joints, mulberry trees

Pehr Kalm, a Swedish-Finnish explorer and botanist, died 140 years ago today. He’s best known for being one of Carolus Linnaeus’s students, and for spending several years in North America seeking out seeds and plants - not least the red mulberry - to bring back and improve agricultural possibilities in his home land.

Kalm was born in 1716, in Sweden, where his Finnish parents had taken refuge during the Great Northern War. His father died weeks after Kalm was born; and a few years later his mother and he returned to Finland (but academics argue over Kalm’s exact nationality). He studied sciences at the universities in Turku and Uppsala, and was a student of the naturalist Carl Linnaeus (dubbed the ‘father of modern taxonomy’). Kalm became much interested in the useful application of botany in agriculture and industry.

During the mid-1740s, Kalm was engaged in field research in Sweden, Russia and Ukraine. Then, in 1747 he was appointed Professor of Economic Natural History at the University of Åbo in Turku. Very soon after, though, he set off on a mission, planned by Linnaeus, to collect economically-useful plants - particularly red mulberry for silk worms - in North America.

On his journey, Kalm spent six months in England, before arriving in Pennsylvania in 1748 where he met the leading American naturalists. He made the Swedish-Finnish community of Raccoon (now Swedesboro in New Jersey) his base of operations. There, he acted as a substitute pastor in the local church, and even married the widow of the former pastor. Two major trips took him north, firstly to New York, Albany, Lake Champlain, and Canada, and, secondly, to Canada again.

Kalm returned to Turku in May 1751, where he remained for the rest of his life, teaching and writing. He died on 16 November 1779. Wikipedia has a good short summary of his life, as does one found at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. Here is how the latter concludes: ‘Kalm was one of the outstanding utilitarian Linnaean botanists, one genus and 90 species of plants being named for him. His major legacy, his book, stimulated natural history in Sweden and provided Europeans with an accurate and wide-ranging account of North American conditions and customs. Kalm’s descriptions of Canadian life and mores are among the best found in travel literature concerning the country.’

Kalm’s diary of his journey was first published in Stockholm in the 1750s as En Resa til Norra America. This was translated into English by John Reinhold Forster and sold in England in three volumes in the early 1770s. The full English title reads: Travels into North America; containing its natural history, and a circumstantial account of its plantations and agriculture in general, with the civil, ecclesiastical and commercial state of the country, the manners of the inhabitants, and several curious and important remarks on various subjects.

Original copies are available through Abebooks costing hundreds or thousands of pounds, but a 1970s reprint can by bought much cheaper. However, the full texts are freely available at Internet Archive. Here are several extracts taken from volume two of Kalm’s original volumes as found at Internet Archive. (These are relatively short diary entries though most are much longer with detailed descriptions of the flora/fauna, culture and society he finds).

14 April 1749
‘This morning I went down to Chester: in several places on the road are saw-mills; but those which I saw today had no more than one saw. I likewise perceived that the woods and forests of these parts had been very roughly treated. It is customary here, when they erect saw-mills, wind-mills, or iron-works, to lead the water a good way lower, in case the ground near a fall in the river is not convenient for building upon.’

24 April 1749
‘To-day the Cherry-trees began to fhew their bloffoms; they had already pretty large leaves. The Apple-trees likewife began to bloffom; however the Cherry-trees were more forward: They likewife got a greenifh hue from their leaves. The Mulberry-trees were yet quite naked and I was forry to find that this tree is one of the lateft in getting leaves, and one of the firft which gets fruit.’

6 May 1749
‘The Mulberry-trees (Morus rubra) about this time began to bloffom, but their leaves were yet very fmall. The people divided them into male and female trees or flowers; and faid that thofe which never bore any fruit were males, and thofe which did, females.’

22 May 1749
‘The locusts began to creep out of their holes in the ground last night, and continued to do so to-day. As soon as their wings were dry, they began their song, which is almost sufficient to make one deaf, when travelling through the woods. This year there was an immense number of them.’

4 June 1749
‘I found vines in several gardens, got from the old countries. They bear annually a quantity of excellent grapes. When the winters are very severe, they are killed by the frost, and die quite to the ground; but the next spring new shoots spring up from the root.’ 

This article is a revised version of one first published 10 years ago on 16 November 2009. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Diary briefs

Chiang Ching-kuo’s diaries to be published - Taiwan News

Channon’s diaries to be published in full - The Bookseller, The Guardian

Highsmith’s diaries to be published - SwissInfo, The Independent (see also My guiding darkness)

The Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan - Nightboat Books, Pink News

Diary left by mental home suicide - The Mirror

War Diaries of Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Barne - Pen & Sword Books

War-time diaries of Miksa Fenyő - Helena History Press, National Review

Chilling diary entries of family killer - Daily Mail, The Mirror

Sontag: Her Life and Work - HarperCollins, Los Angeles Times

Extracts from Joanna Drew’s diaries - Skira, Hyperallergic

Dutch war diarist given medal - US Army, DVIDS

Tortured girl’s heartbreaking diary - The Mirror

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Hogsheads and puncheons

‘Yesterday arrived, the Continental Schooner Wasp, Captain Baldwin; brought with her a large Guinea ship bound from Jamaica for Liverpool, having on board three hundred and five hogsheads of Sugar, fifty-one puncheons of rum and other goods.’ This is Christopher Marshall, born 310 years ago in Ireland, who emigrated to America, ran a successful pharmacy business in Philadelphia, and was a staunch advocate of American independence. His diaries, which were published several times in the 19th century, are considered to offer ‘interesting insights’ into the revolutionary war era.

Marshall was born in Dublin, Ireland, on 6 November 1709. He was educated in England but emigrated - without his parents permission - to America in the 1720s; by 1729, he had established a pharmacy shop in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He married Sarah Thompson in 1736 and the couple had three sons. He became committed to American independence, but was disowned by the Society of Friends, to which he had been very attached, because of the active part that he took in the revolutionary war. Sarah died, and in 1774 he married Abigail Fisher Cooper. Around the same time he retired from business and took up various public offices.

In 1776, Marshall became a delegate to the Philadelphia Provincial Council, and he was twice appointed to the Continental Committee of Council and Safety. In 1777, he relocated to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to improve his health and avoid the British armies. With the war over, he moved back to Philadelphia where he died in 1797. Brief further details are available at Famous Americans or The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

From 1774 until 1795, Marshall kept diaries, making near daily entries in some periods. A detailed breakdown of these diaries is provided by The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, which holds the Marshall Papers, including diaries, notebooks and various transcripts and copies made subsequently. The Society says ‘regardless of form, Marshall’s diaries provide interesting insights from a local merchant into Revolutionary War-era Philadelphia, as well as first-hand accounts of events leading up to the war.’ Extracts from Marshall’s diaries in 1774, 1775 and 1776 were first edited (by William Duane) and published in 1839, under the title Marshall’s Remembrancer - available at Internet Archive. A subsequent edition dated 1849 includes diary entries from 1777 as well. Some 30 years or so later, a further edition - Extracts from the Diary of Christopher Marshall kept in Philadelphia and Lancaster during the American Revolution - includes extracts from 1774 through to 1781.

Here are several extracts from the 1849 edition.

9 September 1776
‘A number of the troops, it’s said, from the country, went out of town yesterday. Those gentlemen, delegates, mentioned to go out on the Seventh, to converse with Lord and General Howe, did not go till this morning. It was General Sullivan that went thenabouts, from this City.’

13 September 1776
‘Went to [the] Committee Room at Philosophical Hall, where William Wild appeared in support of his Memorial. Upon being interrogated respecting the money, [which,] he had said, belonged to the merchants in England, he now declared otherwise, and that the whole sum was his own private property, and in order to prove that, said his letter and cash books would shew it, which he could fetch in one quarter of an hour, if requested. Upon this he was desired to fetch them, and the Committee would wait. In about that space of time he returned and declared he had destroyed his letter and cash book and every other book, about ten days ago, which might publicly bring his employers into trouble. Referred to next meeting.’

16 October 1776
‘Yesterday arrived, the Continental Schooner Wasp, Captain Baldwin; brought with her a large Guinea ship bound from Jamaica for Liverpool, having on board three hundred and five hogsheads of Sugar, fifty-one puncheons of rum and other goods. Letter from Harlem, where our companies [are], of the Thirteenth instant, says most of Howe’s forces are got about six miles above King’s Bridge, and were landed in order if possible to surround our camp, so that a general engagement may be hourly expected to be heard of.’

6 September 1777
‘This afternoon, the two thieves, who stole Col. White’s cash and trunk, were marched about a mile and a half out of town, in order, it’s said, to be hanged, but upon the Colonel’s lady’s intercession, it’s said, they were pardoned from death, but received two or three hundred lashes each, well laid on their backs and buttocks. A great number of spectators, it’s said, were assembled.’

11 September 1777
‘News was that the enemy advanced towards the Concord road to Philadelphia; that part of our army was gone to Chad’s Ford; that several deserters were gone for Philadelphia; some, very few, come here; that some of the Virginia forces coming to our assistance had crossed [the] Susquehannah to the amount of one thousand; others on the road. From Fort Pitt that one or two persons were apprehended, coming there from Detroit, on one of them were found some papers, particularly one with the list of names of those in the fort and in the neighbourhood, who had declared their allegiance to George the Third. One of the persons, by name Wm. Gallaher, formerly a pedler, had made his escape, for whom a reward of six hundred dollars is offered.’

16 September 1777
‘I am informed that yesterday were brought to this jail, three or four persons from Chester County, two of them named Hunter, who, by receipts found upon them, appear to have been as suppliers of Howe’s army with sheep, cattle, &c. The others are called Temple, who appear to have been concerned as directors of the roads to Howe’s army, and informing against sundry persons to him as good friends to the United States, and other inimical practices.’

6 October 1777
‘Went into town; spent chief [part] of the afternoon there in conversation, respecting public occurrences, as the express had just come in; brought account of a parcel of our army’s moving in three divisions last Sixth Day night, eight or nine miles, and [that they] attacked our enemy near five next morning near Chestnut Hill; threw them into disorder and drove their grenadiers with others into Germantown, where they took refuge in churches, houses and meetings, with their cannon (of which our people had brought none with them) and as the main body of the enemy advanced our little party retreated back to their former ground in good order, taking one piece of cannon with them, and all their wounded. Accounts say that we had killed, wounded and prisoners on our side about four hundred, and that the enemy had nearly fifteen hundred in killed, wounded and prisoners.’