Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Jones/Palin relationship

In the last ten days, two stalwarts of the British entertainment industry - Terry Jones and Nicholas Parsons - have departed the stage for the last time. Jones was a multi-talented writer, comedian and director, one of the key creators of the Monty Python shows and films. Parsons was an actor but became better known for presenting radio and TV shows, most particularly, Just a Minute which he hosted for over 50 years without missing an episode. As far as I know, neither men were diarists (certainly there are no published diaries by either of them). However, Terry Jones is a ubiquitous presence in Michael Palin’s diaries (for example, one entry reads, ‘Another meeting about the Jones/Palin relationship’. As it happens, Palin received a Special Recognition Award last night at the British Television Awards, and dedicated it to Terry Jones. Palin’s diaries also include at least one mention of Parsons - when Palin took part in Just a Minute as a panellist.

the son of a bank clerk, was born in 1942 in the seaside town of Colwyn Bay, on the north coast of Wales. He attended the Royal Grammar School in Guildford, and then read English at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, where he performed in the Oxford Revue with Michael Palin. He went on to perform in, and write for, many TV shows, not least Monty Python’s Flying Circus (with Palin and others) which ran for 45 episodes between 1969 and 1974. He also co-directed and directed several Monty Python films. Also with Palin, he co-wrote the comedy anthology series Ripping Yarns (1976-1979). Jones authored several medieval history works, and he presented television documentaries on the subject; he also wrote books for children. He died on 21 January aged 77, leaving behind two children by his first wife, Alison Telfer, and one by his second wife, Anna Söderström.  Further information is readily available at Wikipedia, IMDB, or from the many obituaries (BBC, The Guardian, The New York Times, The Daily Mail).

Although there are no indications that Jones was ever a diarist, he figures prominently in the published diaries of his life-long friend Michael Palin. Palin has published three volumes of diaries - see Cleese, also in a bikini for more on Palin and his diaries. The following extracts all come from the first volume, Diaries 1969–1979: The Python Years. Some pages of this can be previewed at Googlebooks.

7 June 1970
‘Terry and I had to spend the morning working on another of our small-earning sidelines. This time it was a rewrite of a film called ‘How to Use a Cheque Book’ for the Midland Bank.’

18 June 1970
‘General election day. [. . .] The morning’s work interrupted by the delivery of a large amount of dung. We were sitting writing at Terry’s marble-topped table under a tree sheltering us from the sun. All rather Mediterranean. Suddenly the dung-carriers appeared. Fat, ruddy-faced, highly conversational and relentlessly cheerful, they carried their steaming goodies and deposited them at the far end of Terry’s garden. As they passed I gleaned that they had come from Reading, that they had started loading at 5 pm, that one of them was about to go on holiday to Selsey Bill - his first holiday for seven years. After about twenty-five tubfuls they were gone, but at least they had left a sketch behind.’

2 October 1972
‘Arrived back after rushes at about 7.45. There was a call waiting for Terry from Midhurst - it was Nigel to say that their mother had been taken to hospital. Terry was immediately on to BEA to book a plane back to England. He was in a rush and a hurry, but seemed to be in control. Al came upstairs and broke down and cried for just a moment - there was no flight back to London tonight from anywhere in Germany.

Thomas [Woitkewitsch] was fortunately here to help, and he started to ring charter flights and private air-hire firms. The irony of the situation was that we had all been invited to Alfred’s to watch an Anglo-Dutch comedy show which Thomas had produced. As Terry phoned Chichester Hospital from Alfred’s bedroom, the strident shouts from the telly grew louder and more disconcerting. I sat and talked to Graham in the neutral room. He had spoken to the ward sister and she had told both Graham and Terry that her chances of recovery were minimal. Graham argued clearly and reasonably, and yet still sympathetically, that it was not worth Terry’s while trying to charter a plane to London in order to see his unconscious mother.

It was about 10.00 when I saw Terry in his room. He was sitting in a wicker chair, he seemed composed, reflective and rather distant. I clasped him around the shoulders. He said he was happy just to ‘sit and think about her’. Graham and I left, and went next door to the Klosterl, for a meal with Alfred, Thomas and Justus [our cameraman]. Not a great meal. Back to the hotel at about 11.30.

A note from A1 was stuck in my door. ‘Terry’s mother died at 9.20. He has gone to sleep with the aid of a sleeping pill.’

For a moment I felt a strange stifling surge of sadness. My eyes welled with tears and for a few moments the news hit me really hard.’

26 September 1973
Terry and I went up to the Flask in Hampstead and had a good airclearing talk about the future. We both feel now (c.f. flight to Calgary three months ago) that another series of Python for the BBC - with John writing a regulation three and a half minutes per show - is not worth doing, certainly at present, if at all. I was not encouraged enough by the material we wrote for the record to believe that Python has vast untapped resources. I think we may be straining to keep up our standards and, without John, the strain could be too great. On the other hand, Terry and I do have another direction to go in, with a play in commission and another on the stocks. We work fast and economically, and still pretty successfully together. Python it seems is being forced to continue, rather than continuing from the genuine enthusiasm and excitement of the six people who created it.’

22 January 1976
‘Tomorrow I must be on the ball, for even more important discussions, this time about the professional future, must be raised with Terry as a result of a couple of calls from Jimmy Gilbert who has once again emphasised that he would like the Tomkinson series to be a Michael Palin series, written by Michael Palin and Terry Jones and starring Michael Palin.’

23 January 1976
‘Today, upstairs in Terry’s work-room, I told him of Jimmy’s attitude. TJ looked hurt - but there was a good, healthy fighting spirit there too. TJ feels that Tomkinson may well have been originally my project, but it worked as a team project and Terry is now very angry that the BBC want to break the team by institutionalising a hierarchy into our working relationship - i.e. The Michael Palin Show.

We talked ourselves round in circles. I couldn’t honestly say that I was prepared for TJ to take an entirely equal part in the acting, because this would involve me in a tussle with Jimmy over something I didn’t feel was in my own best interests. We break off for lunch with Jill Foster at Salami’s in Fulham Road.

It certainly seems that 1976 is all-change year. After almost ten years together, Terry and I are exploring and altering our relationship and Jill Foster and Fraser and Dunlop are doing the same. In short, Jill is leaving. She felt stifled at F & D, so now she wants to set up on her own.

We think we’ll stay with Jill, despite the various problems that have cropped up over our Python activities. She’s a good agent for us in many ways - a good talker, not renowned as vicious or hard in the business, but always seems to deliver an efficient, worthy, if not startling, deal.

After lunch we drive down to Terry’s, talking again about the series. A peripatetic day, in fact, both literally and metaphorically. We decide to meet Jimmy together, but he can’t make it until Monday. So I leave about 5.00 - with Terry still reeling slightly under a blow, which he hadn’t after all expected. It’s a rotten situation and rotten to see someone you like and whose friendship is so valuable being given a hard time. But it’s all got to be said and to be gone through.’

26 January 1976
‘Another meeting about the Jones/Palin relationship. This time at the BBC. Meet TJ for a coffee first and he, as I had expected, had taken stock of the situation over the weekend and come to an optimistic conclusion. He would write the series with me and then go off and make a film for children (a project he’s had his thoughts on before) whilst I was filming. He seemed very happy.

However, once in Jimmy’s office, TJ took a rather less accommodating line (quite rightly for, as he said afterwards, there was no point in the meeting if he didn’t try to change JG’s mind with a forceful view of his own).

I didn’t do a lot of talking - I let Terry say all he wanted to say and Jimmy say what he wanted to say. JG was excellent I thought. He held to his position, but was sympathetic to all Terry said so, at the end of one and a half hour’s meeting we were all still friends - and Jimmy adjourned us for a week to think about it. TJ did seem to be less angry than impatient with Jimmy and we went off for a lunch at Tethers.

I’m trying to avoid an utterly basic dissection of our relationship, because I think it’s a relationship that obeys no strict rules, it works without introspection - it’s an extrovert relationship based on writing and often performing jokes together. It’s instinctive and I don’t want to damage it by over-examination. I want (for such is my half-cowardly nature!) to solve this re-adjustment crisis without tears.’

27 January 1976
‘Spoke to Terry, mid-morning. Rather than pursuing the Children’s Film Foundation, TJ has instead revived that most hardy perennial - the Fegg film. He has rung John Goldstone, who reckons that The Nastiest Film in the World’ has distinct possibilities!’

28 January 1976
‘Another gorgeous day of clear, crisp, sharp sunshine. Terry comes up to Julia Street to talk about the Fegg film. We have some nice ideas - Fegg is a brooding and malevolent influence who lives in a corrugated iron extension up against a Gothic castle, near to the world’s prettiest village, where everyone is terribly nice to each other. But the presence of Fegg (whom we see in a sinister, opening buildup sequence letting the air out of someone’s tyres) is too much for them. They advertise for a hero. Scene cuts to a Hostel for Heroes, where unemployed heroes sit around in a sort of collegey atmosphere - occasionally getting jobs.

At the end of our day on Fegg - and with a possible commitment to writing on Fegg until we go to the US - I suddenly feel a touch of panic. Helen, with her usual down-to-earth perspicacity, provoked it by her reaction to the news of the Fegg film. I know she’s right - I am taking on too much. The Fegg film is going to take time and ideas away from what should really be my primary project of the next two years - the BBC series of thirteen. Helen forces me to confront the fact that I am in danger of losing what I am trying to save.’

12 December 1976
‘[. . .] Brief chat with EI, who seems concerned that Terry J should not have too much control of the next Python movie. He does blow hot and cold. It was only a few months ago that Eric wanted TJ to direct his TV series! But now he feels that TJ’s problem is that he doesn’t appreciate compromise.

Our chat was inconclusive, but I can see that the direction of the film will be a difficult issue looming up.’

29 November 1978, Stirling
‘[. . .] To Grant’s Bookshop in Stirling for my first signing session. [. . .] John Lennie, the Methuen rep for Scotland, drives me to Edinburgh.

Terry J arrives. He and I go for a nostalgic walk up to the Royal Mile. We nose around the Cranston Street Hall in the traditional manner. TJ remembers the thrill of seeing the feet of a forming queue through a small window down in the toilets . . . That was fifteen yean ago.

We find ourselves in a wonderful, small, grubby, friendly bar in Young Street - the Oxford Bar. This is the glorious opposite of all the carpeted ‘lounges’ where drinks are now taken. It’s small and gossipy and quite uncompromising with regard to comfort and decor . . . definitely a new ‘must’ when visiting Edinburgh.’

21 April 1979
‘Talk with TJ on the phone. Last Wednesday night he was attacked by an old gent in Soho who asked him where Charing Cross Station was. When he told him, the old man called our director ‘a lying bastard’ and belaboured him with his stick. TJ’s head was cut and bleeding. A ‘passer-by’, who TJ thinks may have been a plainclothes man from the Metropolitan force, leapt on the old bloke and hauled him off to the nick. Apparently he had just attacked someone else further up the street.’


Whereas one might consider Jones a heavyweight of British entertainment, Nicholas Parsons was more of a lightweight, though a long-lived and much-loved one. He was born in 1923, and grew up in Grantham, Lincolnshire. He attended St Paul’s School, London; and, with the war over, opted for acting as a career. He appeared in the West End, and toured with repertory theatres, but also ventured into film. In the 1950s and 1960s, he became well known to TV audiences as the straight man to comedian Arthur Haynes. During the late 1960s, he created and presented a satirical programme on BBC Radio 4 called Listen to This Space, which helped him earn the Radio Personality of the Year Award in 1967. From 1971 to 1983, he fronted the Anglia quiz show Sale of the Century. In 1967, he began presenting the radio panel show Just a Minute, and hosted every episode through to 2018. In 1994, he published his autobiography, The Straight Man: My Life in Comedy (Weidenfeld & Nicolson). He married twice, firstly to Denise Bryer with whom he had two children, and subsequently to Ann Reynolds. He died yesterday, 28 January. Further information is available at Wikipedia, IMDB, and from obituaries (The Guardian, BBC). Here, though is Michael Palin reporting to his diary about the experience of being a panellist on Parsons’ show Just a Minute.

3 October 1975
‘At 5.15 arrived in taxi at the BBC’s Paris studio - which is not in Paris, of course, but in Lower Regent Street - for recording of Just a Minute. A few people from the queue came up and asked me for an autograph - and there was my face on a display board outside. Inside, the peculiarly non-festive air which the BBC (radio especially) has made its own - everything from the colour of the walls and the design of the furniture to the doorman’s uniform and the coffee-serving hatch seems designed to quell any lightness of spirit you may have.

Then I met Clement Freud. He stared at me with those saucer-shaped, heavy-lidded eyes with an expression of such straightforward distaste that for a moment I thought he had just taken cyanide. The producer, John Lloyd - a ray of light in the darkness that was rapidly closing in on me - hurriedly took my arm and led me aside as if to explain something about Clement F. It was just that he had a ‘thing’ about smoking - and for some inexplicable reason I had just taken one of John L’s cigarettes. Still, this blew over.

A depressingly half-full house filed quietly in and at 5.45 the 
contestants - three regulars, Freud, K Williams, the rather forbiddingly authoritative Peter Jones, myself, not exactly in my element any more - and quiz master Nicholas Parsons were introduced to friendly applause and took our places at our desks. The three regulars have been playing the game together for five years - Williams and Freud for eight - and it shows. They are smooth and polished, they know when to ad-lib, when to bend the rules a little, and when to be cross with each other. I buzzed Clement Freud when he was at full tilt and, when asked why, I apologised and said I was testing my buzzer. That’s the only time I saw him smile in my direction.

The game became easier, but I never mastered the technique of microphone-hogging which they all have perfected.

Before I knew it, two shows and about an hour and a half had passed and it was all over. I signed autographs. Peter Jones was very kind to me and complimentary, Freud I never saw again and Nicholas Parsons was the only one to come round to the pub and drink with us. Us being myself, Douglas Adams (who had recommended me to his friend, the producer) and John Lloyd. They seemed to be quite pleased with me and Peter Jones, as he left, said he would see me again on the show. I gather some guests manage it (Barry Took, Katharine Whitehorn) and some don’t (Barry Cryer, Willy Rushton) and at least I wasn’t considered amongst the don’ts.’

Monday, January 27, 2020

A solid stretch of ice

It is now generally accepted that the very first sighting of Antartica took place on this day, two hundred years ago, by a Russian expedition under the leadership of Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen (also known as Thaddeus von Bellingshausen). The British got there a few days later, and the Americans ten months after that. Bellingshausen’s expedition diary makes no mention of the discovery of a continent, referring only to ‘a solid stretch of ice’, nevertheless it is thanks to the diary that scientists have been able to establish the facts of Bellingshausen’s achievement.

Born to a Baltic German family in 1779 in what is now Estonia but was then part of the Russian Empire, Bellingshausen joined the Imperial Russian Navy at the age of ten. After studying at the Kronstadt naval academy, he rapidly rose to the rank of captain, and took part in the first Russian circumnavigation of the world. Subsequently he was in charge of various ships in the Baltic and Black Seas.

When Czar Alexander I decided on two major expeditions in 1819, one to the northern polar seas the other to the southern, Bellingshausen was chosen to lead the latter (after the first choice, Commodore Roschmanow, suffered ill-health). His two vessel convoy (Vostok and Mirnyi) set off from Portsmouth in September the same year. The expedition crossed the Antarctic Circle and on 27 January 1829 it made the first sighting of the Antarctic coast.

During the voyage Bellingshausen also visited Ship Cove in New Zealand, the South Shetland Islands, and discovered and named various other islands. He returned to Kronstadt in August 1821, and thereafter fought in the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-1829 attaining the rank of admiral. In 1839 he was appointed military governor of Kronstadt, and died there in 1852. See Wikipedia or the Antartic Gude, for more on Bellingshausen, and for more on the actual expedition.

In the early 1980s, according to Wikipedia, the British polar historian A. G. E. Jones looked at competing claims for the first sighting of Antartica. He concluded that Bellingshausen was indeed the discoverer of the sought-after Terra Australis, beating the British explorer Edward Bransfield whose first sighting was on 30 January 1820. Jones’s study relied on various documents in the Russian State Museum of the Arctic and Antarctic in Saint Petersburg, including Bellingshausen’s diary.

Here is what Wikipedia says: ‘The first confirmed sighting of mainland Antarctica, on 27 January 1820, is attributed to the Russian expedition led by Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev, discovering an ice shelf at Princess Martha Coast that later became known as the Fimbul Ice Shelf. Bellingshausen and Lazarev became the first explorers to see and officially discover the land of the continent of Antarctica. It is certain that the expedition, led by von Bellingshausen and Lazarev on the ships Vostok and Mirny, reached on 28 January 1820 a point within 32 km (20 mi) from Princess Martha Coast and recorded the sight of an ice shelf at 69° 21′ 28″ S 2°14′ 50″ W that became known as the Fimbul ice shelf.’

An English version of Bellingshausen’s diary of the journey was published in 1945 by the Hakluyt Society - The Voyage of Captain Bellingshausen to the Antarctic Seas, 1819-1821 (two volumes, translated by Edward Bullough and edited by Frank Debenham). The first volume can be viewed online at Internet Archive; and the second volume can be previewed at Googlebooks. A few copies are available secondhand on Abebooks, but are not cheap, costing several hundred pounds each.

Here are Bellingshausen’s diary entries for 27-28 January 1820 (the published diary entries are given with Julian Calendar dates - which slightly pre-date the West European Gregorian Calendar).

16 January 1820 [27 January 1820]
‘The thick weather, with snow and ice and high north-west wind, continued through the night. At 4.0 a.m. we saw a grey (smoke-coloured) albatross flying near the ship. At 7.0 a.m. the wind changed to the north, the snow ceased for a time and the blessed sun now and then broke through the clouds.

At 9.0 a.m., in Lat. 69° 17’ 26” S., Long. 2° 45’ 46” W., we found a magnetic variation of 8° 48’ W. Proceeding south, at midday, in Lat. 69° 21’ 28” S., Long. 2° 14’ 50” W., we encountered icebergs, which came in sight through the falling snow looking like white clouds. We had a moderate north-east wind with a heavy swell from the north-west and, in consequence of the snow, we could see for but a short distance. We hauled close to the wind on a south-east course and had made 2 miles in this direction when we observed that there was a solid stretch of ice running from east through south to west. Our course was leading us straight in to this field, which was covered with ice hillocks. The barometer fell from 29-50 to 29, warning us of bad weather. We had 2° F. of frost. We turned north-west by west in the hope that in this direction we should find no ice. During the last 24 hours we had observed snow-white and blue petrels and heard the cries of penguins.’

17 January 1820 [28 January 1820]
‘The thick weather and snow continued through the night. At 2.0 a.m. both ships put about on to the port tack. At 6.0 a.m. we observed right ahead of us an iceberg which we only just succeeded in avoiding. The thermometer stood at freezing point; at the same time the wind began to freshen and we were forced to double-reef the topsails. At 8.0 a.m. the Vostok, turning to the wind, joined up with the Mimyi. Towards midday the sky cleared a little of snow clouds and the sun appeared. We were able to take midday observations and found our position to be Lat. 68° 51’ 51” S., Long. 3° 07’ 06” W., the stream having set N. 20° W. 13 miles. We did not, however, enjoy the sun for long; in these latitudes it is so rarely visible. Fog and snow, the travelling companions of the navigator in the Antarctic, again overtook us.

In these high latitudes, into which we extended our voyage, the sea is a most beautiful blue colour, which in some measure serves to indicate the great distance of land. The penguins, whose, cries we heard, are in no need of land. They live just as comfortably, and indeed seem to prefer living, on the flat ice, far more so than other birds do on land. When we caught penguins on the ice, many dived into the water but, without even waiting till the hunters had gone, they returned to their former places with the help of the waves. Judging by the form of their bodies and their air of repose, one may conclude that it is merely the stimulus of seeking food that drives them from the ice into the water. They are very tame. When Mr Lyeskov threw a net over a number of them, the others, not caught by the net, remained quite quiet and indifferent to the fate of their unhappy fellows who, before their eyes, were put into sacks. The suffocating air in these sacks and careless handling while catching, transferring and taking the penguins on board the vessels, produced a sickness amongst them, and in a short time they threw up a great quantity of shrimps, which evidently form their food. At this point I may add that we had so far not found any sort of fish in the high southern latitudes, excepting the different species of whale.

At 8 o’clock the Vostok waited for the Mirnyi and, joining her, we passed to windward on a starboard tack so as to draw away from the ice and lie to during the foggy weather. The wind blew steadily from the north with occasional snow. The whole horizon was in a haze. Since our arrival in these higher latitudes we had always the same sort of bad weather with north winds, but with the wind from the south we had dry weather with a clear horizon.’

This article is a revised version of one first published 10 years ago in January 2010.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Dobzhansky, Darwin and religion

Theodosius Dobzhansky, a Russian-American scientist who did much in the 20th century to marry Darwin’s biological theories with the new science of genetics, was born 110 years ago today. His papers, held by the American Philosophical Library, include over 50 notebooks and diaries, but there is very little information about their content in the public domain - except that found in a biographical essay linking Dobzhansky’s religious outlook to his scientific understanding.

Dobzhansky was born on 25 January 1900 in Nemyriv, then in the Russian Empire now in Ukraine. His father was a mathematics teacher. In 1910, the family moved to Kiev, where Dobzhansky attended secondary school and decided to become a biologist. In 1915, he met Victor Luchnik, an older college drop-out who was obsessed with beetles. Dobzhansky studied at the Kiev state university from 1917 to 1921, specialising in entomology, and stayed on teaching until 1924. Also in 1924, he married Natalia Sivertzeva; they had one daughter. He then moved to Leningrad (now St Petersburg), to study under Yuri Filipchenko, where a Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly) lab had been established.

In 1927, Dobzhansky went to work at Columbia University in New York City as a Rockefeller Fellow, continuing his work on fruit flies with the geneticist Thomas Hunt Morgan. Subsequently, he accompanied Morgan to the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and, on being offered a teaching position there, decided to remain in the US, becoming a citizen in 1937. That same year, he published the groundbreaking Genetics and the Origin of Species, which helped establish evolutionary genetics as an independent discipline. He returned to Columbia as a professor of zoology in 1940, and remained there until 1962, when he moved to Rockefeller Institute (later Rockefeller University). After his official retirement, he went, in 1971, to the University of California at Davis. Following a long battle with leukaemia, he died in late 1975.

The Understanding Evolution website has this assessment: ‘Dobzhansky’s ability to combine genetics and natural history attracted many other biologists to join him in the effort to find a unified explanation of how evolution happens. Their combined work, known as The Modern Synthesis, brought together genetics, paleontology, systematics, and many other sciences into one powerful explanation of evolution, showing how mutations and natural selection could produce large-scale evolutionary change.’ Further information can also be found online at Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, or Genetics.

Dobzhansky left behind 54 notebooks and diaries. These are held by the American Philosophical Library which provides this information: ‘The fifty-four notebooks and diaries give a virtually uninterrupted first-hand commentary on Dobzhansky’s life and career, save for the period 1936-1941. Although the earliest dates are 1934, the first entries (sketches and data on coccinellid beetles) may have been made as early as 1917. With few exceptions, the entries are all in Russian, although two long stretches written in English occur during the late 1940s and early 1950s (presumably the years during which he felt most alienated from Russia) and from 1971 until his death. In an entry from this period, he commented that he was again writing in English so that his last thoughts would be accessible to friends and relatives unable to read Russian.’

Although none of Dobzhansky’s diaries have been published (as far as I can tell), they have been used as source material for biographical works, in particular by Jitse van der Meer in his essay on Dobzhansky for Eminent Lives in Twentieth-century Science & Religion (edited by Nicolaas A. Rupke, published by Peter Lang in 2009). Some pages can be previewed online at Googlebooks. The following paragraphs, quoted directly from the essay, are based almost entirely on information gleaned from Dobhansky’s diaries, and are referenced by van der Meer with over a dozen citations (not included here) from those diaries (held by American Philosophical Library).

‘. . . This is why he was concerned about moral and religious education. In 1969, following a conversation with his grandson Nicolai he wrote about the younger generation: “But the trouble is that they do not have moral and religious schooling, and that they grow up to be egotists and self-centred and free thinkers”.

Religious faith had existential meaning for Dobzhansky. During the height of WW II he tried to encourage his despondent colleague and friend Leslie Dunn (1893-1974), but failed. He then observed that Dunn needed religion, but that he did not have it. Dobzhansky deliberately initiated discussions about Dostoevsky, specifically of The Grand Inquisitor, to bring others such as his colleagues and friends Carl Epling (1894-1968) and Alfred Ezra Mirsky (1900-74) closer to God. He tried to be Christian and prayed almost every morning. Many notes in his diary, especially from the last years of his life, started and ended with expressions glorifying God. For instance, the entry for March 1, 1971 has the traditional ending, “but first of all God, glory to you.” He prays for strength in the face of illness, pain and death and thanks God for the grace of his blessings.

One of the most important characteristics of Russian Orthodoxy is the religious unity of believers in the practical and spiritual sense expressed in the idea of sobornost. This formed the context for Dobzhansky’s concerns about the Church. For instance, he appears hopeful about the apparently unusual presence of young people at a Russian church service. He deplores the absence of religion and the commercialization of churches in Japan and is bitterly disappointed about the rejection of his religious vision of evolutionary progress by both atheists and the Christian Church. These concerns are consistent with his own church attendance.

A further characteristic of Russian Orthodoxy is that the architecture of their church buildings reflects the universe. Dobzhansky expresses sensitivity to the spiritual symbolism of architecture after visiting the palace of Louis XIV in Versailles. Comparing it with the cathedral in Chartres he wonders how a Christian monarch could build a palace that he considers a piece of anti-Christian propaganda.’

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Pioneering women’s education

‘But the great fact is granted, the thin end of the wedge in, and, though nothing is secure till after the Senatus on Saturday, yet it is an enormous triumph!’ This is from the diary of Sophia Louisa Jex-Blake, born 180 years ago today, who led the campaign to secure women access to university education. She wrote this entry on the day Edinburgh University academics voted to allow her to study medicine. Though that decision would be overturned initially, she rallied others to her cause, and a group of women were then admitted. She herself became the first practising female doctor in Scotland; and she was involved in founding two medical schools for women.

Jex-Blake was born on 21 January 1840 into a wealthy, religious family in Hastings, southeast England. She had two older siblings, and was home schooled until the age of eight, after which she attended a series of private schools. In 1858, she enrolled at Queen’s College, London, despite her parents’ objections. While still a student, she worked as a mathematics tutor, though her father refused to allow her to accept payment for this. She became firm friends with Octavia Hill (who would later become a celebrated social reformer), though Hill broke off the relationship. In the early 1860s, Jex-Blake spent some time travelling in the United States, learning about women’s education and working as an assistant at a hospital in Boston. In 1867, she applied to study medicine at the University of Harvard, but was rejected on the grounds that she was a woman. Later that same year her father died and she returned to England.

In 1869, Jex-Blake published an essay - Medicine as a profession for women - arguing the case for equal access for women to medical education. She also applied to the medical faculty of Edinburgh University. Although she won acceptance by the academic board, the university’s court rejected her application because the university should not make the necessary arrangements ‘in the interest of one lady’. Jex-Blake responded by advertising for other applicants, who then formed a group - which became known as the Edinburgh Seven - to apply for admission together. They were the first formally admitted undergraduate female students at any British university. However, there was a backlash. The following year, 200 angry men physically prevented the women from sitting an exam. The resultant publicity provoked widespread debate on women’s education, but the University of Edinburgh caved in, refusing to allow the seven women to graduate. A court case followed which, in 1873, the university won.

In 1874, Jex-Blake helped establish the London School of Medicine for Women. In 1877 Jex-Blake was awarded her M.D. by the University of Berne, and later the same year she qualified as Licentiate of the King’s and Queen’s College of Physicians of Ireland, which allowed her to become only the third woman to register as a doctor with the General Medical Council. She returned to Edinburgh, where she set up a medical practice in 1878. In the mid-1880s, she joined with Elizabeth Garrett Anderson to establish the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women, Margaret Todd being one of the early students. Jex-Blake’s management style, though, led to a damaging court case in 1889. By 1892, when the University of Edinburgh finally opened its doors fully to female students, the new school was effectively redundant. She retired from her practice in 1899, and, with Margaret Todd, moved back to Sussex, to Rotherfield. She died in 1912. For further information see Wikipedia, Undiscovered Scotland, Spartacus Educational, or the BBC.

Todd, like Jex-Blake, became a doctor, but she also published, under a pseudonym, several novels. After the death of Jex-Blake, she compiled her biography - The Life of Sophia Jex-Blake - published under her own name (Macmillan, 1918). The biography is heavily underpinned by 
Jex-Blake’s diaries, and Todd uses many verbatim extracts from those diaries. The book is freely available online at Internet Archive or Project GutenbergAccording to Shirley Roberts who has written a much more recent biography - Sophia Jex-Blake: A Woman Pioneer in Nineteenth Century Medical Reform (Routledge2005) - Todd destroyed all of Jex-Blake’s diaries as well as her own papers, before committing suicide (only months after publication of the biography). Roberts believes she did so in order to act on Jex-Blake’s instructions as found in a paragraph of her will (in which she calls for all her books and papers to be ‘burnt without examination’ if Todd should pre-decease her). Roberts’ biography can be previewed at Googlebooks.

Here are several extracts from Jex-Blake’s diaries, as quoted by Todd, several from her childhood and one from the day that the academic board of Edinburgh University first approved her application to study medicine.

29 July 1849
‘Sunday. Went to Keswick church in the morning and the text was James 4. 8. Brother went to church at Thornthwaite. Papa, Brother and Carry walked off to the Vale of St. John’s, but there was no sermon - only prayers. Went to Keswick church in the afternoon and the clergyman took his text from Ps. 119, 96.’

5 August 1849
‘Mama was very ill and I stopped at home both in the morning and afternoon with her. Papa, Brother and Carry went to Brougham-hall to church but there was no service. They went again in the afternoon to Brougham-hall - no sermon. I went in the evening to Penrith church and the text was Luke 16. 8.’

26 February 1854
‘Oh, keep Thou my foot when I go up into Thy house of prayer. O how difficult it is to fix the mind for even that short time! Miss X. will treat me unlike any other human being, but that is no reason for transgressing the commandment of my God. She says she does not like to hear me name the name of Christ for I do not depart from iniquity, she thinks I had better not hold conversations on sacred subjects.

A complaint having been made of rudeness from one of the girls, Miss X. said it was just like one of Sophy’s tricks, heaven knows with what ground. All these things have aggravated me, and I fear I have sadly given way to temper and pride, not remembering Him who bare the contradiction of sinners against Himself though He never offended in word or deed. If sometimes unjustly spoken to, how often have I escaped my desert and how few are the faults the strictest find compared with an all-seeing God. Oh, for the charity that beareth all things ...’

27 February 1854
‘I must expect trials this day, humiliating to my pride and trying to my temper...

‘Nothing special, though I gave way sadly at different times and again sinned in sending a letter to Mama.’

28 February 1854
‘Again, more and more against light, got sweets. Miss X. in her prayer speaks at poor Agnes who is just come. She prays that all may be kind to her, remembering the Fatherless and Widow are His special care, etc. How could she harrow up poor Agnes’ feelings so! The poor child was weeping under the infliction... And in the prayer she announced her intention of expelling anyone who would make the others unhappy. O I could have knocked her down, and after prayers she really spoke kindly to me about beginning March afresh and any other time I could almost have promised to try. As it was I could not kiss her even. Oh how much I think of that which might and probably did proceed from a pure motive, and do not consider my unkindness often which I know does not do so.’

1 March 1854
‘Whole holiday. Gave way to passion to A. and B. tho’ perhaps they were provoking I should better have striven to retain my temper. Alas from my feelings since it seems as if it were the letting in of water. O preserve me from being so awfully passionate as I was. Overbearing and ordering in the afternoon. Oh for the Charity which ‘is kind’ which ‘is not puffed up’ ‘seeketh not her own’ and above all which ‘is not easily provoked’.’

24 May 1855
’My answer was to come about Wales. When I got my letter I prayed God to help me to bear it, for I was nearly sure it would be a refusal, and I was quite prepared for it and determined to keep my promise not to worry about it. I put my letter in my pocket and ran away from them all. Then I burst it open and read, ‘Daddy and I have such a strong wish you should see Wales, and it is truly painful to deny you such a pleasure.’ There, thought I, but I had expected it and didn’t feel so dreadfully disappointed. Then I read on and oh, I found it was not so, that I should go. Oh, I got so excited and half began to cry. Then came Mummy’s caution not to be excited, but it was impossible. Dropped down there and thanked God. Oh, then I trust He has granted my prayer. Glory to God in the highest. Oh, I was so thankful.’

30 May 1855
‘Very difficult geometry problem. I doubt if I can do it. Mortimer was home, and told us some very good stories of ___ the nurse of his ward. Mrs. H. said in the evening she would like to be nurse there (!) She said how should I get on who so hate injustice, and I said I thought such open acknowledged injustice was not the hardest to bear. This brought down an awful storm of wonder, reasoning, etc., till at length I got off to bed so tired.’

5 June 1855
‘Throat very fairly bad, and very ‘cheval’ as M. would say. Apropos it’s her birthday....

Just before prayers I was in the cupboard and someone shut the door nearly on me. I threw it open again and half upset the great slate. We had been rather uproarious all afternoon as M’s sisters had been here and said holidays did begin on 18th. When I came out of the cupboard I managed to tread on M’s toes, and Mlle packed me off to bed. I said ‘All right,’ shook hands with her, kissed S. and went off. Mlle wasn’t very angry nor I very sorry and so we were all very comfable. Seized on K. for a kiss as she came up and she seemed forbidden to speak to me. However we had a nice hug and she wasn’t very horrified.’

7 January 1858
‘I must begin to write again if I don’t mean to lose the knack ... and so ought to go on with Hertford House or write something... I want partly to write for the money, now why, I wonder? Honestly, why? I have plenty of everything. In a handsome if not luxurious home, 6 servants all much at my orders, lots of rides, a most loving Mother, tender father, almost every wish gratified, £30 a year clear, and lots of presents, almost at will, why I should write for money unless I am avaricious or spendthrift I don’t exactly know. Partly for the pride of earning it, of knowing myself as well able to earn my bread as my inferiors. Surely, though, I ought least of all in my list of comforts - blessing, should I say? to omit my most happy, most snug nutshell of a room, with its handsome furniture, cosy fire, and thoroughly comfortable arrangements. How truly loving my most precious pearl of a Mother has been to me in this especially...

I have conceived a rather wild idea of writing to Miss M. for counsel and sympathy... But how get a letter to her? And, if I did, would she think it a bore? I think not. Send the letter to her publishers? Sure not to be opened? Then what to say if I do write? What do I want? Don’t exactly know.

Well, leave it.

Now for the more important at least more solemn part of todays journal. And I must make this some use. Just heard a sermon from Mr. Vaughan on ‘Truth,’ Gehazi being the scape-goat of warning. He spoke strongly of allowing ourselves to say more on religious subjects than we feel, calling it a dangerous deception and leading to worse. But does that include speaking a word - earnest and sincere at least - about the souls of others, tho’ our own may not be safe? Often at school I have felt driven to speak very solemnly to girls about their souls when I feel I am not worthy to say a word, for mine is perhaps as lost as theirs, and often and often have risen in my throat, ‘Lest when I have preached to others I myself become a castaway.’ Yet if I am, oh, fearful word, I can hardly write it, if lost (oh, God, save me!) can it, would it not console, if consolation were possible, to know I had warned others from the pit into which I fell. And I hope I may have done some little good... And how happy I have felt - and better in myself too, if I have even for a moment led some to think of Jesus else forgotten...

Dearest Mrs. Teed is dead. ‘Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord.’ ‘Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!’...’

18 June 1866
‘How thoughts and plans and possibilities rush upon me! The opening of the bar to women here,Mr. Sewall’s wish for a female pupil. ‘Ah,’ as I said to L.E.S. last night, ‘if I had been an American, I believe I should not have doubted to be a lawyer.’ She thinks one should be, if one has the powers and will.

Yes, but is the ‘dedication’ and vocation of years nothing? Have I believed rightly or wrongly that God meant me to do something for teaching, and that in England, to the almost certain exclusion of all other life-work? Rightly, I think.

Then, again, the ministry. What seems to draw me so irresistibly that way? Is it pride or wish of note, or is it vocation? Is it partly Dr. Arnold’s belief that Headmaster ought also to be chaplain?...

One seems at crossways, ‘the tide’ perhaps. Well, look,and surely the kindly Light will lead.’

11 April 1868
‘Within three weeks of leaving for home,what balance sheet? Nearly three years in America.

In that time complete health regained, probably better than ever before, real strength and power of study. A profession opening calmly and clearly before me, its sciences already ‘as trees walking,’ becoming clearer daily. The edge of pain all gone. But with it vivid faith and life in many directions - belief in all invisible and much reaching after the heroic. A sort of passive ‘quo fata vocant,’ a sort of ceasing to demand the very good or very true, perhaps, a sort of coldbloodedness that is not peace, a nil admirari that only ‘will do for it.’ My vocation given up or laid aside, and I quietly learning knowledge chiefly because it is power, hardly yet shaping out any end; but what does come, selfish enough. Professor of Anatomy? Surgeon? Doctor-Teacher?

Sometimes a sharp pain rushes across, ‘Ah, if Mother shouldn’t live to see me succeed!’ She does seem woven in with the heartstrings, my old darling who cannot forget.

All this health and new life - more than ever hoped for - comes mediately from L.E.S.’

23 March 1869
’10.30 a.m. Now, having done all that lies in one woman’s power - except, perhaps, an article in the Daily Review, having left a book, as a reminder, on Bennett, hunted up Sir J. Y. S. and crammed him [with] Mlle Unpronounceable at St. Petersburg, I have to do what is hardest of all, wait.

Four distinct votes in my favour, I believe, if all go and all keep faith with me. Allman ... Bennett, Balfour, Simpson. Against me distinctly, Christison, Laycock, and probably Henderson. Doubtful, Turner, Spence, and, perhaps, Syme. Besides Maclagan (ill), and Playfair (probably absent).

To lunch with Simpson at 2 p.m., and hear results.

1.45 p.m. Waiting for the verdict? How will it be? Somehow the probability seems rather for me this time, but there, the Fates are so habitually adverse! I can’t help hoping and yet I don’t expect success. I hope they won’t ‘give an uncertain sound’ and put it off indefinitely!

8 p.m. Gloria tibi Domine!... At 2 p.m. went to Sir J. Y. S., found him out, but met him in the street. ‘Yes, ye’re to be let in to the classes if the Senatus allow ye,’ of course with all provisos as to ‘tentative,’ etc. But the great fact is granted, the thin end of the wedge in, and, though nothing is secure till after the Senatus on Saturday, yet it is an enormous triumph!

Three more days’ of calling and entreating and arguing, then ‘after all these voices ... peace.’

After all, my aspiration to L. E. S. was not so ill-founded, ‘If I can be the first woman to open a British University’ then surely I, like Charlotte Brontë ‘shall have served, my heart and I’ even if I die straightway.

For May, June and July, the Botany, Natural History, and Histology, with preparation for the Matriculation exam. Oh, dear, I do feel so exultant.... In one sense I do see all the life-preamble to have been needed. The experience in the United States gave me much more chance of success now, the life there gave me health really to use the chance when it comes.

I hardly fear the future at all; not the students, nor the work. I am sorry not to be with Mother, but on the whole this must be best, I think. Four years of College! All alone? Surely not literally all the time - spiritually, who knows?

What a pity, as I said to U.D. that they will use up gold for toasting-forks! Well, I am sure the hind-wheels may run by faith for a long time now. Perhaps the tangle is beginning to unravel after all these years, and I shall have to cry, ‘Oh, why didn’t I bear on better then!’ I suppose that is always the feeling when the cloud begins to lift. But till it lifts,

‘Still it is hard. No darkness will be light
Though we should call it light from night till morn.’

And surely the Father pitieth His children.’

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Nerves before a sitting

It’s 40 years to the day since Cecil Beaton died. A famous photographer and costume designer, he was also a significant diarist. His self-edited diaries were first published in six volumes while he was still alive but, since his death, various ‘unexpurgated’ collections have also appeared. Whether heading to the BBC for an interview as a young man, or in his 60s preparing to photograph Picasso or the Queen, both of whom he knew from previous sittings, Beaton uses his diary - among other things - to confess nerves and insecurities.

Beaton was born in 1904, in Hampstead, London, the eldest son of a successful timber merchant. He was given a camera when still young, and used it to take photographs of his sisters. He was educated first at Heath Mount (where he was famously bullied by Evelyn Waugh), then at Harrow and St. John’s College, Cambridge. Even before finishing his studies, he had set up his own photography studio.

He soon developed a reputation as a fashion photographer, working for magazines such as Vanity Fair and Vogue. He also photographed celebrities, and members of the Royal Family for official publications. During the Second World War he worked for the British Ministry of Information as a documentary photographer. On one assignment he was sent East to photograph the Empire and its allies at war. After the war, Beaton designed sets, costumes, and lighting for the Broadway stage, and for Hollywood films. He was knighted in 1972. Two years later he suffered a stroke that left him partly paralysed. He died on 18 January 1980. See Wikipedia, Huxley-Parlour, or the V&A for more biographical information.

Beaton began keeping a diary while still a boy and kept the habit for most of his life, though he didn’t start publishing his diaries until the early 1960s. He carried on until the early 1970s, creating a set of six, each one with a similar sub-title, as follows: The Wandering Years (1922-1939); The Years Between (1939-1944); The Happy Years (1944-1948); The Strenuous Years (1948-1955); The Restless Years (1955-1963); The Parting Years (1963-1974). In London, they were published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson, and in New York by Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

A decade after his death, in 1991, Oxford University Press brought out two books based on Beaton’s work for the Ministry of Information during the war: Chinese Diary and Album and Indian Diary and Album. And, more recently, there have also been two books promising Beaton’s unexpurgated diaries: The Unexpurgated Beaton: The Cecil Beaton Diaries As He Wrote Them, 1970-1980 (preview some pages at Amazon), and Beaton in the Sixties: The Cecil Beaton Diaries As He Wrote Them, 1965-1969.

Hugo Vickers, who provides an introduction to both the ‘unexpurgated’ volumes of diaries and who is one of Beaton’s biographers, gave a brief summary of Beaton the diarist (in a more general article) to The Guardian: ‘As a diarist, he tried to preserve the passing moment in aspic, but there was more to it than that. Aware that he had rare access to the people he photographed, he trained himself to make pen portraits of these figures, who were closely observed and their foibles uncomfortably recorded. He was never without a marbled book with blank pages in which to scribble at free moments. His memory was good and his pen sharp. Some of his images are very funny, some unkind, but he is never dull. And nor does he spare himself in these pages. Another diarist, James Lees-Milne, thought of Beaton’s diary as a particularly spiky spike on which to be hoisted to posterity, while John Richardson thought he had ‘a homosexual’s flair for seizing on the zeitgeist’.’

See The Diary Junction for links to a few diary extracts. Here, though, is the young Beaton (taken from The Wandering Years).

June 1926
‘I’d been wondering lately if I couldn’t get a job talking on the radio. I wrote to the BBC offering my services, and received a summons to be tried. In fear and trembling, all bunged up with a bad cold, I found my way to the broadcasting place. This really was an adventure! I hadn’t told anyone except N and B. I was interviewed by a tall, rough man named Sieveking. He said, ‘Read!’ Suffering from acute embarrassment, I started to drawl a bit of a short story I’d written. But I had hardly got going before he shouted, ‘Stop!’ I couldn’t think what disaster had occurred. ‘No, I’m afraid it’s no use. Your voice just isn’t any good!’

‘Couldn’t you hear me?’ Yes, Sieveking said he could hear me very well, but mine was a voice that didn’t ‘take’. I asked, ‘Does a cold make any difference?’

‘It would.’

‘Well, I have a bad cold.’

At last Sieveking confessed, ‘It’s no good pretending. With most people I beat around the bush and make false excuses. But if you won’t be grossly insulted, I’ll tell you just what’s wrong.’

‘Yes, I’d be interested.’

‘Well, when you’re broadcasting you’re talking to the masses. These people don’t like being talked down to or patronised.’ What he was trying to say was that I had an over-cultured up-stage sort of voice! This was a bitter shock for me. I’d always thought I spoke in a less affected way than my friends. No, Sieveking stood firm. I didn’t speak English as it should be spoken. I talked with an Oxford accent.

‘Surely not! I went to Cambridge.’

Sieveking then gave me an imitation of my voice. It sounded so exaggeratedly high-class as to make me almost sick! Why, I talked just like the silly ass in musical comedy - the nut with spats, large buttonhole and eyeglass! I felt annoyed, but flattered that the man had told me the truth. I said I could easily get rid of my faults if I practised, and would come again when my cold was better. I’d better try to talk to the masses in a straightforward way.

I came home and ate worms. Hell and damn!’

24 August 1936
‘It was on one of these mornings that the breakfast tray brought with it a fatal telegram: ‘Daddy gravely ill. Come.’ In a flash, everything changed. My mood, my life, the colour of the room, the significance of everything altered.

Since I was very small, I had always wondered what would happen if one of my parents died. The mere contemplation of such an event brought tears to my eyes. Now it had materialised in absentia, and it hurt sufficiently for me to cry. In a few minutes I got through to London on the telephone. My mother was suffering greatly, and wailed hysterically for me to come. My father had died of a heart attack at dawn. . .’

And here is Beaton in his sixties (taken from Beaton in the Sixties).

28 April 1965
‘It is strange that at an age of over 60, I should be able to work myself into such a nervous condition at the idea of photographing Picasso. I was certainly extremely on edge. I remember when I first photographed him in the early thirties, at that time I could speak very little French. . .’

18 September 1968
‘. . . I felt I must try to get a new picture of the Queen . . . Martin Charteris rang from Balmoral to say the Queen was not averse to my taking some new pictures of her. Later the phrase changed to ‘would be pleased’ and it was added that I should take some pictures specially for new stamps to be issued in the Channel Islands.

I suppose I’ve forgotten that in earlier days I would get ‘nerves’ before an important sitting, but certainly this time I felt quite anxious. The difficulties are great. Our points of view, our tastes are so different. The result is a compromise between two people and the fates play a large part. One does not know if things will conspire against me, or if the sun should shine.

There have been so many pictures of the queen in tiara, orders and crinoline that I felt I must try something different. I asked Martin if a deerstalker cloak would be suitable. No, he didn’t think so, but what about an admiral’s cloak? Nave-blue serge. That sounded great and when I saw the cape in his office, felt this would be an enormous asset. . . Martin telephoned to say the Queen had agreed to wear the cloak, was rather giggly about the whole thing, and said it didn’t matter what she wore underneath it as it wouldn’t show if she had nothing on. ‘Oh, the saucy thing!’ Eileen said when I relayed this piece of information to her. . .’

‘[Later in the same (long) entry about the photos:] . . . Maybe I was tired, but no question of masterpiece. How could the camera be so cruel? There was no imperfection it glossed over! I was appalled, really dunched. Blau [head of Camera Press which distributed Beaton’s photographs] comforted me, said he thought it a remarkable collection, the Queen shown in honesty as she is today, a woman of 42, no longer a child, not a film star, not made up for photographs, not particularly interested in her appearance. This was an interesting set.

The following day I was fresher. The rapturous cries of others helped me. The slight retouching helped too . . . Martin seemed enthusiastic, liked the cloak, and I left for America (I write on the plane against time)) without knowing if the cape will be approved or not. In fact, it is still in the hands of fate what results will come out of this latest milestone in my career. Or is it a nail in the coffin?’

This article is a revised version of one first published 10 years ago on 18 January 2010.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Mountains of Jagga

‘This morning we discerned the Mountains of Jagga more distinctly than ever; and about ten o'clock I fancied I saw a dazzlingly white cloud.’ This passage from the diary of the German missionary Johannes Rebmann - born two centuries ago today - describes the first moment any European set their eyes on the mountain that would become known as Kilimanjaro. The white cloud was, of course, snow, but when reports of a snow-capped mountain so close to the equator reached Europe, they were not believed.

Rebmann was born on 16 January 1820 to a farmer and winegrower in Gerlingen, Württemberg, southern Germany. From an early age, it is said, he aspired to be a preacher. Indeed, he trained as a missionary first in Basel, and then, from 1844, at the Church Missionary Society College, London. The following year he was ordained as a priest by the Bishop of London. In 1846, he travelled to East Africa, Mombassa, in the area which is now Kenya, where he joined a veteran missionary Johann Krapf, who had recently lost his wife and daughter to malaria.

Rebmann and Krapf together were able to set up some of the first mission posts in the region. In 1848, Rebmann was the first European to see Mt. Kilimanjaro, and the following year Krapf first sighted Mt. Kenya. At first the existence of these mountains was not believed in Europe, but it was Rebmann’s accounts and sketches that eventually stimulated more systematic scientific exploration of the area, including expeditions looking for the sources of the Nile. Rebmann and Krapf also visited other areas of Africa, including the Great Lakes and Mt. Meru. Rebmann married another missionary, Emma - they worked together for 15 years until her death in 1867. Rebmann learned to speak several native languages; he completed a dictionary of the Nika language, and he compiled the first ever Chichewa language dictionary.

Having almost lost his eyesight, Rebmann returned to Germany in 1875, the first time in nearly 30 years. He lived in Korntal near Stuttgart, where he was close to his old friend Krapf. In 1876, he married the widow of another missionary, from India, Louise Däuble, but Rebmann died within a few months. Further information is available from Wikipedia, the Johannes-Rebmann Foundation (a religious society devoted to Rebmann and his memory), or Climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

According to the above biographical information, Rebmann kept a diary from 1848 for the rest of his life. One extract is widely quoted, not least by Wikipedia, which concerns the first sighting of, what is now known as, Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa.

10 November 1848
‘This morning we discerned the Mountains of Jagga more distinctly than ever; and about ten o'clock I fancied I saw a dazzlingly white cloud. My Guide called the white which I saw merely ‘Baridi,’ cold; it was perfectly clear to me, however, that it could be nothing else but snow.’

The full text of the Rebmann’s 1848-1849 diary - in German - is available on the Johannes-Rebmann Foundation website. The same website also offers a (rather crude) English translation of a longer passage from the diary concerning the first sighting of Dschagga/Jagga. (Curiously, and I have no explanation for this, the passage starts with the date 11 May.)

‘May. 11. At daybrake we left. When we had walked for about half an hour, we saw right from us 2 people who ran away when they saw us. Bana Cheri wanted to shoot with the shotgun. But the Teitas, who thought that the refugees were compatriots, refused him to do that and ran after them, but they couldn’t catch up with them. Northeastern we saw a mountain, about 2 day trips away, that’s called Ongotia and that should belong already to Ukamba land. After another half an hour we arrived in a desert where again more gras grew and where it therefor was harder to walk, particulary as we had not one small foot path. The normal way goes along Daffeta [e.d.: nowadays Taveta, a market place in Kenya at the border to Tanzania], where my guide didn’t want to go because he was in quarrels with the king of that country. This morning we saw the mountains of Dschagga clearer and clearer, until I thought at about 10 am that I see on on the top of one of them a noticeable white clowd. My guide confirmed me first in my opinion - if he wanted to hide the truth from me or if in fact in that moment a white cloud floated around the mountain, I didn’t know. When we had walked a bit more, I noticed again the white and I asked my guide again, if that there really could be a white clowd. While he answered, this would be a clowd, but he wouldn’t know what the white is - he assumed it would be cold - I got obvious and sure that it can’t be anything else than snow, for which the people have no name, because it never falls in this region. All the strange stories about an inaccessible, from bad ghosts inhabited mountain with gold and silver in the inner, that I had heard often with Dr. Krapf at the cost since I had arrived, were now suddenly clear.

Of course, that the unusual cold forced the half naked visitors of the snow mountain to go back, or when they had to continue by order of the despotically Dschagga king until their body wasn’t totally got numb, them really killed, what then out of ignorance was put the blame on the bad ghosts. I tried to explain the circumstances to my people, but they seemed not really want to believe me. When we rested, I read psalm 111 in the english Bible, to which I came in the ordering. The psalm made double the impression on me, at the sight of the wonderful snow mountain so close to the equator, especially verse 6, that particularly and clear said that, what I only faint suspected and felt.

In N.W. we saw again another large mountain from Ukamba land, that was named Kikumbulu.

At noontime some of my people saw again some rhinos. My short face [e.d. bad eyesight] caused huge fuss, because, to see them, I continued walking, while my people let me stand still. Because of my words that I first wanted to see the animals, they shouted more that I should go back. They seemed to be very worried about me, that nothing bad will happen to me.’

A translation into English of the whole diary document by Google Translate can be found here. A further document available on the Foundation’s website is a transcript (in German) of a diary kept by Rebmann’s wife, Emma - see a here for a translation into English by Google Translate. Elsewhere, the introduction to a biography of Rebmann by Steven Paas contains more information about Rebmann’s diary (tagebuch), not least the fact that some parts of the diary have been lost.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

The horizon is getting darker

‘The horizon is getting darker. Some days ago we heard about Ristlaan’s vicious speech at the Radio House, where he, among other things, had emphasized that the people who do not understand how hostile the letter is would have no place in an ideology establishment. I am not responsible for the wording but the atmosphere at the radio has been whipped to fine froth and some exaggerations are easily born in this situation.’ This is from a diary kept by Andres Tarand in 1980-1981 during a political crisis in Estonia, one that centred on a public letter written by 40 intellectuals, including himself. Tarand - who is 80 today - went on to become the country’s prime minister for a brief period in the 1990s.

Tarand was on born 11 January 1940 in Tallinn. He graduated from the University of Tartu with a degree in climatology in 1963, and the same year he married Mari Viiding, with whom he had two sons. He went on to complete another degree in geography (1973), as well as undertake research at the Tallinn Botanic Gardens, eventually becoming its director (to 1990). In 1980, he was a signatory to the so-called Letter of 40 Intellectuals, a public letter defending the Estonian language and protesting Russification policies. He was elected a member of the Estonian Parliament in 1992 remaining so until 2004. He served twice as minister for the environment in the 1990s, and, briefly, was prime minister (November 1994 to April 1995). From 1996, he was on the board of the University of Tartu. He was elected to the European Parliament in 2004. He has also been involved in many environmental organisations in the Baltic and Nordic areas. A little further information is available in English at Wikipedia.

I have no idea or not if Tarand has been in the habit of keeping a diary, but in 2005 (I think) he published an edited version of one he kept from 1980 to 1981 - he called it Litterae non Erubescunt Diary 1980- . . .’ An English translation can be found on his own website. He says of the work: ‘This book is my diary, kept during a couple of years in the 1980s. The decade was a turning-point for most of the nations who belonged to the so-called socialist camp. Some of them, though, are still struggling with immense internal difficulties. The Letter of 40 that was an acute irritant to the authorities at the time, was characteristic only of Estonia, where the main aim was to protect and preserve the national language. The publication was partly caused by youth’s demonstrations in the autumn of 1980 but the actual reason for it was the Russification that followed the secret decree of the Communist Party in 1978. I have no wish to diminish the role of the other nations, undermining the supports of the Soviet empire, be it the revolt in East Germany or the activities of the Polish Solidarnos c up to 1980 but I would like to emphasize that the fear of losing one’s native language is obviously inversely proportional to the size of the nation.’

Tarand claims that ‘changes in the text compared to the original diary are minimal and basically linguistic not contextual’. However, it seems, for several reasons, to be more of a diary-memoir than pure diary. Firstly, the narrative often flows as if written in the past, and is rarely interrupted by a date heading/headline (eg: ‘On the morning of 21 November I went to . . .’ and ‘The last week of November was rather eventless for me. . .’). Secondly, there are many entries which benefit from future knowledge (but this may be because, at the time, he wrote the diary days or weeks later). There are also many contextual additions (eg: letters) to the diary from later dates. Nevertheless, the work provides interesting detail, both personal and political, on events of the time.

7 January 1981
’The horizon is getting darker. Some days ago we heard about Ristlaan’s vicious speech at the Radio House, where he, among other things, had emphasized that the people who do not understand how hostile the letter is would have no place in an ideology establishment. I am not responsible for the wording but the atmosphere at the radio has been whipped to fine froth and some exaggerations are easily born in this situation. The idiocy embraced also the 1 January concert of the Ellerhein chamber choir the last song of which was announced as an English folk song Night. Actually, the beautifully performed song that was heard was Silent Night. Somebody, obviously the Central Committee employee Toomas Leito, “told the ones who needed to know“ and the event and song were declared to be dirt. And that despite the fact the the whole programme was made up of spiritual music of the seventeenth century. This clearly shows that not religion but cultural coherence is under attack, just like 40 years ago people who had the so-called English orientation were deported to Siberia or nothing can be heard of the “third way“ in 1944.

This is some general background. More concrete steps are summons to top men again. Fred Jü ssi had been summoned to Slutsk, Ita Saks to Jõ eruüü t. Juhan Viiding was at Kuusberg‘s already yesterday. These are the first blossoms of the third round.

Late at night the phone rang. Rein Saluri sounded a bit more sober than he actually was. When I had gone up to his flat, it became clear at once what he was trying to talk about. His mixed up phrases and fragmentary sentences summed up as a lament how difficult it was for him and Jõ eruüü t to condemn Ita Saks at the party bureau session. This was given as a reason why both men were drinking excessively. Another worry seemed to be that the authors of the letter have carelessly given a blow to the Estonian culture in general, as now the journal Keel ja Kirjandus (Language and Literature) was being investigated. The pillars of culture, he said, were extremely busy saving the Estonian culture and they were irreplacable as there were so few of them. This was about Kuusberg as the secretary of the Writers‘ Union among others. The emphasisis laid on the differences between him as a pillar and me as a second-rate figure made me angry for a while and my reply was that Saluri’s inner tensions and ambiguity between the party life and culture should not be extended to culture in general. Piret Saluri was obviously embarrassed about her husband‘s proclamations and the next day she tried to explain his outbursts by the undue influence Jo eru u t had on Saluri.

Evidently at the same time another conversation like that took place in Tartu between Hans Trass and another student of his - Martin. These two men discussed the possible sad fate of the Botanic Gardens thanks to the unworthy behaviour of the vice director. It is only a supposition and Martin should be more than medium-drunk to admit it.’

8 June 1981
’On the 8th of June something happened in the Botanic Gardens that I eyewitnessed. I still do not know how much it was connected with the letter, i.e. the connection has been openly admitted but its deeper meanings have not been disclosed. I came to work from our summer cottage by the morning bus and so could not get there before 11 a.m. In my office, Pä ts’ kitchen, I found hordes of dead and injured bees. One swarm had settled in the chimney already earlier and now they had evidently come into the room through the flue. The weekend in the cool room and hunger had played havoc with them. I opened the window and started to collect the bees on a punchcard and placed them in the small patch of sun that reaches the windowsill only in June. Being busy with the bees I noticed three men approaching from the direction of the barn. Their gait was so characteristic of their profession that I said to myself: again some KGBeshniks, let them walk, I am busy with more important things. I did not see them any more and did not pay attention either. (They evidently went to make a phonecall at the secretary’s.) It took me about an hour to save the bees and do some current jobs before I could go to the clayhouse. I had not been there long when I noticed Rein Ratas going into Taimi’s room. I would not have paid much attention to it had he not had a very peculiar look on his face. About ten minutes later another man appeared in the same corridor, asking for me. Approaching him I recognized the senior investigator Jaup. I greeted him and commented on our former acquaintance. He asked me to come out for a private talk. We had our private talk in front of the clayhouse. Jaup asked whether Aasalo was our employee and I answered in the affirmative. Jaup said he had a search warrant for Aasalo’s workplace and home both and passed it to me. I made clear that the warrant was indeed sanctioned by the prosecutor and could not think of anything to gain time. It might be possible that this is what the brigade was waitng for, some underground activity perhaps. (Why else did they not do anything before, although they had been at the Botanic Gardens already since morning?) As Martin was on a business trip in Tartu, I was the highest official present and could not protest. Jaup asked me whether I knew anything of the key to Aasalo’ safe. I said that I had not worked in that house for some time and did not know even the safe for sure. On our way towards the 46th house, Jaup deliberated about how we (the forty authors) had wanted to do good but the letter had got abroad and now they had to investigate again how it could happen. I might have asked what sort of crime was spreading a not anti-soviet material but the warrant stated “also anti-soviet material”. I was afraid that there might be something like that in the safe and in this case I must be stricktly official. I was still hoping to gain time with looking for the key but it became clear how nai ve I was at once. Two more KGB men who joined us in front of the greenhouse did not introduce themselves. When we reached no 46, the taller, spectacled one, stood on watch about ten metres from the door (does this mean that they hoped to discover some organized activities?). Together with the others we entered the passage where three safes stand one upon another. We asked which of them could be Aasalo’s. L. Saaver did not know but Sander who was coming downstairs suggested that we should try the upper one as the middle one was mine. The last hint was quite unnecessary and I did not like it at all, as my safe was full of maps, among them copies of the presently “secret” ones. The investigators were very happy about Sander’s directions and they were ready to open the upper box. For that they needed the tall man who was keeping watch in the yard who stepped in, pulled a key from his pocket and opened the safe at once. A preceptive moment on the background of our thoughts at the moment when we put our valuables in a safe. . .

Later I understood that a totalitarian state could not afford to make complicated locks for safes: men in its own service would have more trouble only. I risked offering the skilled safeopeners an opportunity to open the other safes as well but they were not interested. So I just stood there and watched how the shorter KGBeshnik was taking one folder of detailed plans of land use after another out of the safe and laid them aside after having given each a cursory glance. I even started to hope that the safe was clean but then I glimpsed something pinkish red and the hope died. The searcher said hurriedly, too quickly actually, “Here it is!” and it really was there. My immediate impression that the searchers knew exactly what they wanted and the searcher was too quick, not even pretending to have a better look at everything in the safe.’

Breaking one ship against another

‘And that day in the evening, being the 11th January, being Saturday, at night there began to blow and arise a very violent storm. It began first in the south and south-south-east board, blowing extreme hard, which caused most of the ships to drive. The wind continuing about the space of four hours, one of our cables breaking, and the wind, a little abating in an hour after, presently veered to the north-west and north, with such extreme fret and fury that caused most of the ships to drive back again, many of them driving foul of one another, breaking their cables, being foul and twisted one with another, and carrying their masts by the board, and staving and breaking one ship against another.’ This is Edward Barlow, a chief mate for much of his life, who left behind a journal now considered to be the most important first-hand account of seafaring in the seventeenth century - all the more remarkable since he only learned to read and write around the age of 30.

Barlow was born in Manchester in 1642, one of six children. He was apprenticed into the bleaching trade but, disliking the business he moved to London, where he lived with his uncle. Through a friend of his uncle, he secured an apprenticeship with the chief master’s mate on the Naseby (renamed HMS Royal Charles), and was aboard that vessel when it carried Charles II (and Samuel Pepys - see Virtues and imperfections) back from Holland. He remained an apprentice on warships until his first merchant voyage in 1662-1664, visiting Lisbon, Barcelona, and Brazil.

Barlow served in the navy through the Second Anglo-Dutch War, but subsequently on returning from a merchant voyage to the Canaries he was pressed to work on the frigate Yarmouth. In 1670–1671 he made his first voyage to the East Indies, aboard the Experiment, but during another voyage on the same ship he was captured by the Dutch in 1672. While a prisoner of war in Batavia, he taught himself to write. He returned to Europe in 1674, and served on various vessels, voyaging to the Mediterranean and Jamaica and eventually being promoted to chief mate. 

In 1678, Barlow married Mary Symons with whom he had two children, but he was soon at sea again, voyaging to the East Indies, where he then spent much of his time. Although he returned to the Royal Navy briefly in 1692, he continued working on the East Indies route through to the early 1700s. In 1705, Barlow was finally appointed a captain - of the East Indiaman Liampo. However, unfortunately,  the vessel was lost off Mozambique sometime early the following year. Further biographical can be found online at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) (log-in required).

After learning to read and write, Barlow began to keep a journal. This he filled with small neat writing, as well as delightful maps and illustrations. Thankfully, it was not with him on his last fateful voyage, and centuries later it was purchased from the Earl of Hardwicke by Basil Lubbock (possibly having been sold to the 
Hardwickes by one of Barlow’s descendants). Lubbock edited the journal which was published (in two volumes) by Hurst & Blackett in 1934 as Barlow’s Journal of his Life at Sea in King’s Ships, East & West Indiamen & other Merchantmen from 1659 to 1703. The manuscript itself was subsequently deposited at the National Maritime Museum.

The ODNB notes that the journal is ‘justly regarded as probably the most important first-hand account of seafaring in the seventeenth century.’ It adds: ‘Fiercely patriotic and intensely curious about all he saw, Barlow was also an outspoken critic of shipowners, the naval authorities, and indeed all landsmen, who in his view either ignored or abused the common seamen. Barlow possessed more than a hint of puritan self-righteousness, constantly bemoaning the hardships of the seaman’s life and the general wickedness of the times he lived in.’

More information about Lubbock’s book and a few page images can be found at Buccaneers Reef; there are more images available online at Royal Museums Greenwich. (Indeed, the book recently made media headlines when conservation workers at Greenwich discovered a note by Barlow hidden in the manuscripts in which he confessed details of a rape he had committed - see The Guardian.) Here, though, is an extract from volume two, dating to exactly 310 years ago. Barlow’s vessel was returning to England (the Downs is an anchorage off the east coast of Kent) when it encountered a ferocious storm.

January 1690
‘And then we directed our course up our Channel for the Downs, seeing no ship or boat all the time, although we had wars then with France, and the Channel full of privateers’ men-of-war - but that was then more than we knew and so we feared it not: but we must praise God in his providence over us in one thing, for all the way we came up the Channel we have very thick, misty and close weather, that sometimes we could not have seen a ship if she had been within a mile of us; neither did we see any land till we came up almost as high as the Isle of Wight.

And the next day in the morning we were within seven leagues of Dover, near Dungeness, and then we saw two ships, the one a Hollander, a privateer, which we spoke with, and the other was a French privateer as we judged afterward, he showing English colours, but came not near us, we being near the land and had a very fair and fresh gale of wind and near to our port.

And in the evening, we came in sight of the Downs, having had a passage from the island of St. Helena of 63 days, a very good and quick passage, for we did not touch at the island of Ascension, not knowing who we might meet there nor what might happen.

So before we came into the Downs, we saw a mighty fleet of ships there, and could perceive several men-of-war and frigates there. One of the frigates’ boats, named the Montague, met us before we came to an anchor and was come to press all our seamen; and they told us of all the news and all the revolutions in England; that King James was in Ireland in rebellion, and the Prince of Orange was crowned King; and that we had had wars with France almost a year and that the French King assisted King James what he could in regaining the Crown, which he had lost in endeavouring to bring in Popery and plant his religion in England; and that most of his nobles had forsook him and had been a means to bring the King William to the Crown; and that King James was fled into Ireland, and all the Papists there were up in rebellion, declaring for King James; and that the French the summer before had transport soldiers and ammunition into Ireland with their fleet of men-of-war, and a squadron of our frigates, meeting them, had had a skirmish with them upon the coast of Ireland, but no great execution had been on either side.

So coming into the Downs the 10th day of January, we came to anchor and lay there all the next day, having all men pressed and carried away from us on board the ship Montagu, having some of their worst men sent on board in exchange to help to carry the ship up the river.

And that day in the evening, being the 11th January, being Saturdav, at night there began to blow and arise a very violent storm. It began first in the south and south-south-east board, blowing extreme hard, which caused most of the ships to drive. The wind continuing about the space of four hours, one of our cables breaking, and the wind, a little abating in an hour after, presently veered to the north-west and north, with such extreme fret and fury that caused most of the ships to drive back again, many of them driving foul of one another, breaking their cables, being foul and twisted one with another, and carrying their masts by the board, and staving and breaking one ship against another.

In this stress of weather our three cables broke, and we did drive foul of one of the men-of-war, and had we been eight feet more northerly we had presently sunk by her side, and a thousand pound to a penny we had all been drowned.

We cut down the mainmast; and our long-boat, breaking away from our stern, sank, wherein I lost as much goods as cost me in the Kingdom of Tonquin 500 Spanish dollars and more, it being “musk in cod” put up in lead pots, which the sea could not well damnify, being soldered up close - but boat and all was lost and never heard of after. I put it there by reason that it was goods and made mulctable by the Company, to secure it from their knowledge.’