Saturday, March 28, 2020

The death of German physics

‘I woke up during the night and had to think of all the misfortune in Germany. About Reinhold’s death, about ruined Berlin, about the terror we all have of the Russians, of the disinterested Americans, about Germany’s suicide, the death of German physics, and the absolute uncertainty of our fate.’ This is from the diaries of the German physicist Ernst Carl Reinhold Brüche - a key figure in the development of the electron microscope - born 120 years ago today. Although Wikipedia does have a short biography of the man, there are very few sources of information in English readily available online. However, Brüche did keep a diary, and a few extracts, translated into English, can be found in The Mental Aftermath: The Mentality of German Physicists 1945-1949 by Klaus Hentschel.

Brüche was born in Hamburg, Germany, on 28 March 1900, but, on the death of his father in 1914, the family moved to Sopot near Danzig (then part of the German Empire, but today Gdansk in Poland). There, at the technical university, he studied mechanical engineering before switching to physics under the guidance of Carl Ramsauer, a highly regarded research physicist. He remained at the university, teaching while continuing research on the measurement of electron scattering cross-sections of molecular gases. In 1929, he married Dorothee Lilienthal with whom he had three daughters.

From 1928 to 1945, Brüche was head of the physics laboratories at the Allgemeine Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG) where he worked mostly on geometrical electron optics and on developing an electron microscope. In 1944 he launched Physikalische Blätter, an academic physics journal, and remained its editor until 1972. From 1946 to 1951, he was head scientist of the Süddeutsches Laboratorium in Mosbach, north of Baden-Württemberg, and from 1948, he was the managing director of Physik-GmbH also in Mosbach. In 1952 he founded Physikalische Laboratorium Mosbach. 

In 1965, Brüche became an honorary member of the German Society for Electron Microscopy, in 1970 he was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit, First Class, in 1972 he received the Max Born Medal for Responsibility in Science, and in the same year he became an honorary citizen of the city of Mosbach. He died in 1985. A little further information can be found online at Wikipedia (the  German entry has more detail).

Brüche seems to have kept a diary at some points in his life. A few translated extracts have been published in Klaus Hentschel’s The Mental Aftermath: The Mentality of German Physicists 1945-1949 (Oxford University Press, 2007). Some pages can be consulted at Googlebooks. Here are several extracts from Brüche’s diaries as found in Hentschel’s book.

19 April 1945
‘We sit there in the forecourt of the Krügel building on a tree-trunk in the sun and feel like prisoners, which of course we are. We live under the most primitive conditions but even worse may well be in store for us. [. . .] Inside the factory no one wants to work anymore. It’s so pointless. Do what, and what for?’

22 April 1945
‘All in all I have got an image of Americans as a rich nation of high technological standards. Proud, unapproachable, and in everything technically superior and efficient. [. . .] We are sluggish, chase after ideals that in reality are completely different from what we think and we don’t even notice. We have a tick tor exactitude and don’t let ourselves be convinced that the others have long since found a simpler way that might not stand up to German criticism but leads more quickly to the goal and has been followed with success.’

28 June 1945
‘We don’t understand the Americans and they don’t understand us. [. . .] We will have to continue to strive and work, so that they see that all of us had not been Nazis and that it is for their own good that they don’t commit the same error with the Germans that we committed with the Jews.’

30 June 1945
‘Hilsch spoke for 4 hours long to two Englishmen and even if only 1% of it stuck, Saul must have turned into Paul. Lt. Comr. A. Elliott, RNVR, was the higher ranking of the two, who both listened with great interest to Hilsch’s portrayals of the stance of physicists toward the party. Hilsch said what any other physicist would also have said. But whether just any physicist would have taken such pains with 2 Englishmen is very doubtful.’

13 July 1945
‘I woke up during the night and had to think of all the misfortune in Germany. About Reinhold’s death, about ruined Berlin, about the terror we all have of the Russians, of the disinterested Americans, about Germany’s suicide, the death of German physics, and the absolute uncertainty of our fate. Isn’t it terrible to think: Russians in the cities in which Bach, Goethe, Haeckel, and whatever else their names are, lived and worked? My heart throbbed and tears almost welled up in my eyes.’

27 August 1945
‘These people remind me somehow of playing children, giant children, who thanks to their great strength have occasion to play with the Germans. It is cat playing with mouse. Does the cat realize at all that it is hurting the mouse when it allows the mouse, half dead as it is, to run a little more for its dear life so that it can catch it again? Why this disinterestedness by a nation that has taken upon itself the responsibility along with the power? Is this a game or cold calculation by the leadership? We want to work and rebuild. Why don’t they allow it? Why aren’t the trains running yet? Why is the post unusable and the telephone line broken? The Americans have been here for four months, four months of “peace” - and we are still waiting for peace. We are living off capital. Raw materials and supplies are everywhere lacking.’

11 October 1945
‘These mindless dismissals of all former Nazis could drive one to desperation. The method only shows that the Americans are no smarter than their predecessors, the Nazis. What did a reasonable man say to me yesterday? From a mild dictatorship with its faults we have now arrived at a severe dictatorship.’

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Ye firme and stable earth

‘Being thus arived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees & blessed ye God of heaven, who had brought them over ye vast & furious ocean, and delivered them from all ye periles & miseries therof, againe to set their feete on ye firme and stable earth, their proper elemente.’ This from the famous journal kept by William Bradford, he who sailed on the Mayflower with other pilgrims to North America, and became the first governor of the new Plymouth Colony. He was baptised 430 years ago today; and this year marks the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower.

William Bradford, born in Austerfield, Yorkshire, to a wealthy farmer, was baptised on 19 March 1590. Both his parents had died by the time he was seven, and he was sent to live with his uncles. Unable to work on their farm because of sickness, he read a lot, and became very familiar with the bible. As a teenager, he came under the influence of reformist religious preachers, such as Richard Clyfton and William Brester. When King James I came to the throne in 1603 and attempted to suppress criticism of the Church of England, the reformists continued to meet in secret. Some of them, however, were arrested in 1607, while others determined to leave England - unlawfully. 

In Amsterdam, then in Leiden, Bradford was taken in by the Brewster household, but in 1611, when he turned 21, he was able to take up his inheritance. He bought a house, set up as a weaver, and earned himself some standing in the community. He married Dorothy May, and in 1617 they had their first child. Although, the emigrants from England had been free to worship how they pleased, they were worried about their children being over-assimilated into Dutch culture. They began planning to travel to North America to set up a new colony, and for three years negotiated with financial backers and with the English authorities seeking permission to settle in the northern parts of the Colony of Virginia. Some 100 passengers set sail from Plymouth on the Mayflower in September 1620 (later this year will mark the voyage’s 400th anniversary - see here for the many events being planned). After various difficulties, they finally anchored first at Cape Cod harbour - the so-called Mayflower Compact (the first governing document of what would become the Plymouth Colony) was signed that same day - and then at (new) Plymouth. Bradford’s wife, though, had fallen overboard and died before reaching reaching Plymouth.

After a gruelling winter, during which many of the settlers died, including the already chosen governor, Bradford was unanimously elected to be governor. He served nearly 30 years (with a few breaks) from the early 1620s to 1656. As early as 1621, the settlers held (what would later be seen as) a first thanksgiving, a secular harvest feast shared with native Americans. He married the widow Alice Southworth in 1623, and they had three children. Bradford is credited for his handling of judicial matters (land disputes), for establishing institutions, and for his religious tolerance. He died in 1657. Further information is available from Wikipedia,, Evangelical Times,,

Bradford’s journals - if you can call them that - are considered by historians as the preeminent work of 17th century America, and as the most authoritative account of the Pilgrims and the early years of the colony they founded. Bradford contributed to an early 
(1622) published history of the pilgrims: A Relation or Journal of the Beginning and Proceedings of the English Plantation Settled at Plimoth in New England. Although primarily by Edward Winslow, Bradford seems to have written most of the first section. This can be read at Internet Archive.

However, it is thanks to Of Plymouth Plantation (sometimes titled William Bradford’s Journal) that Bradford is best remembered. The journal was written between 1630 and 1651 and describes the story of the pilgrims from their time on the European mainland, through the 1620 Mayflower voyage and the setting up of the colony until the year 1647. The manuscript has a long and rather involved history. Bradford himself made no attempt to publish it, but it was passed down to his grandson and over the years borrowed by historians - see the History of Massachusetts Blog for more details. Then, the manuscript went missing until it was discovered in the Bishop of London’s Library in London in 1855. It was published a year later, and one consequence of this was a sudden interest in the Thanksgiving holiday idea. Another, was that there were calls for the manuscript to be returned to New England, which it was eventually.

Bradford’s journal has since been published under many different titles, and is widely available on internet sites (see Googlebooks, The Plymouth Colony Archive Project, Internet Archive, Project Gutenberg). The original manuscript is held by the State Library of Massachusetts in the State House in Boston. It has 270 pages, is vellum-bound, and measures​ 292 × 197 mm. Most of Brafrord’s text reads as a narrative or history, rather than a journal written day-by-day, and there are no dated entries as would normally be found in a journal. Here is one extract dating from the time of the Mayflower’s arrival in North America.

‘Being thus arived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees & blessed ye God of heaven, who had brought them over ye vast & furious ocean, and delivered them from all ye periles & miseries therof, againe to set their feete on ye firme and stable earth, their proper elemente. And no marvell if they were thus joyefull, seeing wise Seneca was so affected with sailing a few miles on ye coast of his owne Italy; as he affirmed, that he had rather remaine twentie years on his way by land, then pass by sea to any place in a short time; so tedious & dreadfull was ye same unto him.

But hear I cannot but stay and make a pause, and stand half amased at this poore peoples presente condition; and so I thinke will the reader too, when he well considers ye same. Being thus passed ye vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before in their preparation (as may be remembred by yt which wente before), they had now no freinds to wellcome them, nor inns to entertaine or refresh their weatherbeaten bodys, no houses or much less townes to repaire too, to seeke for succoure. It is recorded in scripture as a mercie to ye apostle & his shipwraked company, yt the barbarians shewed them no smale kindnes in refreshing them, but these savage barbarians, when they mette with them (as after will appeare) were readier to fill their sids full of arrows then otherwise. And for ye season it was winter, and they that know ye winters of yt cuntrie know them to be sharp & violent, & subjecte to cruell & feirce stormes, deangerous to travill to known places, much more to serch an unknown coast. Besids, what could they see but a hidious & desolate wildernes, full of wild beasts & willd men? and what multituds ther might be of them they knew not. Nether could they, as it were, goe up to ye tope of Pisgah, to vew from this willdernes a more goodly cuntrie to feed their hops; for which way soever they turnd their eys (save upward to ye heavens) they could have litle solace or content in respecte of any outward objects. For sum̅er being done, all things stand upon them with a wetherbeaten face; and ye whole countrie, full of woods & thickets, represented a wild & savage heiw. If they looked behind them, ther was ye mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a maine barr & goulfe to seperate them from all ye civill parts of ye world. If it be said they had a ship to sucour them, it is trew; but what heard they daly from ye mr. & company? but yt with speede they should looke out a place with their shallop, wher they would be at some near distance; for ye season was shuch as he would not stirr from thence till a safe harbor was discovered by them wher they would be, and he might goe without danger; and that victells consumed apace, but he must & would keepe sufficient for them selves & their returne. Yea, it was muttered by some, that if they gott not a place in time, they would turne them & their goods ashore & leave them. Let it also be considred what weake hopes of supply & succoure they left behinde them, yt might bear up their minds in this sade condition and trialls they were under; and they could not but be very smale. It is true, indeed, ye affections & love of their brethren at Leyden was cordiall & entire towards them, but they had litle power to help them, or them selves; and how ye case stode betweene them & ye marchants at their coming away, hath allready been declared. What could now sustaine them but the spirite of God & his grace? May not & ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: Our faithers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this willdernes;[AI] but they cried unto ye Lord, and he heard their voyce, and looked on their adversitie, &c. Let them therfore praise ye Lord, because he is good, & his mercies endure for ever. Yea, let them which have been redeemed of ye Lord, shew how he hath delivered them from ye hand of ye oppressour. When they wandered in ye deserte willdernes out of ye way, and found no citie to dwell in, both hungrie, & thirstie, their sowle was overwhelmed in them. Let them confess before ye Lord his loving kindnes, and his wonderfull works before ye sons of men.’

Sunday, March 15, 2020

An early pandemic hero

In these troubling times, with Covid-19 reaping havoc across the world, it is worth remembering Waldemar Mordecai Haffkine, a Russian born scientist credited with carrying out the first effective programmes for tackling pandemics. Born 160 years ago today, he developed vaccines for cholera and bubonic plague, and organised successful inoculation campaigns in India - until being falsely accused of causing several deaths. He left behind diaries covering much of his life, some of which are held by the British Museum, but there is very little information online about their content. One biographical study suggests that his diaries reflect bitterness towards ‘faithless assistants’.

Haffkine was born into a Jewish family on 15 March 1860 in the prosperous Black Sea port of Odessa (then in Russia now in Ukraine). His early education took place in Berdyansk, a port much further east on the Black Sea, but he returned to Odessa to study natural sciences at Malorossiisky University. There he came under the influence of microbiologist Elie Metchnikoff, a future Nobel Prize winner. After earning a doctorate, he joined the staff of the Odessa Natural History Museum where he worked until 1888, publishing five papers on the hereditary characteristics of unicellular organisms. Although his career was blighted by growing anti-semitism, he was allowed to leave Russia for Switzerland where he joined the University of Geneva, teaching physiology. Two years later, he moved to Paris to join Metchnikoff who had been invited to head the newly­ opened Pasteur institute. Haffkine was employed as an assistant librarian, but also worked in the lab on bacteria.

By the early 1890s, Haffkine had shifted his attention to studies in practical bacteriology. He developed an anti-cholera vaccine that he tested on himself. Anxious to assess the value of the vaccine, he applied to the Russian embassy and others for a suitable opportunity. The British ambassador in Paris, and a former Viceroy of India, helped enable Haffkine to visit India, where ongoing epidemics were rife. He was appointed state bacteriologist to the Indian government in 1893, and successfully employed his cholera vaccine. He set up a lab (which later moved to Mumbai and even later became the Haffkine Institute), and went on to develop a vaccine against bubonic plague. In 1897, he was knighted by Queen Victoria. In 1901, he was made Director ­in ­Chief of the Plague Laboratory with a staff of 53, and his plague vaccine was used to inoculate half a million people.

There was, however, much scheming against Haffkine. His staff, mostly British officers, were less than enthusiastic at having a Jew running the organisation. Some British officials thought him a Russian spy; and Indian dissidents tried to discredit him by attacking the vaccine as a poison or made up of animal flesh. When 19 inoculated people died of tetanus, Haffkine was blamed. After an enquiry, he was relieved of his position (some even named this The Little Dreyfus Affair). He returned to Europe in 1904. The enquiry decision was eventually, in 1907, overturned, and with the support of many eminent scientists, Haffkine was able to restore his reputation and return to India in 1908.

With his previous post (at the plague lab he had set up) occupied, he was made Director-in-Chief of the Biological Laboratory in Calcutta, but it had no facilities for vaccine production, and his terms of employment were restricted. Frustrated, he retired at the minimum age of 55, and returned to Europe, to live in France, then Switzerland. He travelled widely, with a renewed passion for Jewish issues, focusing on the welfare of Jews and migration as well as the health and education of the Jewish people He never married. He died in 1930. Wikipedia has some further biographical information online, as does the US National Library of Medicine. But better sources are Barbara J. Hawgood’s article on Haffkine in The Journal of Medical Biography (available at The James Lindlay Library website) and Marina Sorokina’s article Between Faith and Reason Waldemar Haffkine (1860-1930) in India which can be found on the Russian Grave website.

Haffkine left behind a store of diaries. According to the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York it holds a ‘photostat’ of Haffkine’s diary and a typed transcript. It says: ‘The diary is fragmentary for the period 1895-1908, but is complete for the period May 1915 to October 1930. The original manuscript is at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The diary has a “guide” and annual indices.’ However, I cannot find any evidence of the diaries on the Hebrew University website. The National Library of Israel does have a Haffkine archive, but it doesn’t specifically mention any diaries. On the other hand, the British Library (India Office Records and Private Papers) holds some 16 diaries (plus an index of social engagements) kept by Haffkine, dating from 1919 to the year of his death. Furthermore, the US National Library of Medicine holds ‘published materials from the India Home Department related to the vaccination incident (along with Haffkine's personal diaries on microfilm)’

Unfortunately, I can find very little further information about Haffkine’s diaries online. Sorokina in her article Between Faith and Reason mentions her subject’s diaries three times.
- ‘The diaries and notebooks of the young Haffkine show him to have been a romantic and revolutionary.’
- ‘An officer-­in- charge of the Laboratory, Major William Barney Bannerman, who had spent about 20 years serving the Indian Medical Service, intrigued against Haffkine with the support of some of the staff. In his diaries, Haffkine wrote bitterly of Bannerman: “There is nothing for him to do. . . we do not let him do anything else.” ’
- In his diary Haffkine sadly confessed to himself: “The main feature of my life is solitude”.

Also, Hawgood says in her article that Haffkine’s ‘personal diaries for the years 1903-05 reflect his bitterness that “he was dispossessed of the fruits of his labours by faithless assistants [British medical men]”.’

Friday, March 13, 2020

A bath in fish-glue

‘Days of such exhaustion, sometimes I feel as though I’ve taken my bath in fish-glue. Horrified to find no time left over for thinking: I’ve turned into a machine.’ This is from the WW2 diaries of one of Greece’s pre-eminent 20th century poets, George Seferis, born 120 years ago today. Although a career diplomat with Greece’s foreign ministry, he regularly published collections of poetry, sometimes likened to that of W. B Yeats or T. S. Elliot, which eventually earned him a Nobel Prize for Literature. Several volumes of his diaries were published posthumously, and there have been two selections translated in English.

Seferis was born in Izmir/Smyrna then part of the Ottoman Empire on 13 March 1900 (29 February, Old Style dates). In 1914, the family moved to Athens, where his father, a lawyer, worked at the university. After concluding his education, Seferis studied law at the Sorbonne in Paris. On returning to Athens, he joined the Royal Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the start of a long diplomatic career. In the 1930s, he was posted to the UK and to Albania. In 1941, he married Maria Zannou. During the Second World War, Seferis moved with the Free Greek Government in exile to Crete, Egypt, South Africa, and Italy, and returned to liberated Athens in 1944. Thereafter, he continued to serve in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and held diplomatic posts in Ankara, Turkey and London. He was appointed minister to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq (1953-1956), and was Royal Greek Ambassador to the UK from 1957 to 1961, the last post before his retirement in Athens.

Throughout his life, starting in the early 1930s, Seferis published collections of poems. According to Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard translator of his collected poems into English: ‘The distinguishing attribute of Seferis’s genius - one that he shares with Yeats and Eliot was always his ability to make out of a local politics, out of a personal history or mythology, some sort of general statement or metaphor.’ In 1963, his poetry was internationally recognised with the Nobel Prize for Literature ‘for his eminent lyrical writing, inspired by a deep feeling for the Hellenic world of culture’. (Other finalists that year included Pablo Neruda, Samuel Beckett and W. H. Auden.) When, in 1967, the right-wing Regime of the Colonels took power in Greece after a coup d’état, Seferis took a public stand against the regime’s censorship and repression, but he did not live to see the end of the junta. He died in 1971. Further information is available from Wikipedia, The Poetry Foundation or the Nobel Prize website.

Seferis left behind at least nine volumes of a journal that spans most of his life. It was while serving in the Greek embassy in Ankara, in 1948, that he first began to arrange and edit these journals. But not until 1960 did he start to prepare the texts for publication in various volumes - all with the title ‘Days’ (probably in imitation of the poet C. P. Cavafy). However, from 1967, once Greece had entered a period of military rule, he made the decision, like other Greek writers, not to publish under the regime’s harsh censorship rules. Consequently, selections from his diaries were only printed posthumously. A first English translation by Athan Anagnostopoulos appeared in 1975, published as A Poet’s Journal: Days of 1945-1951 (Harvard University Press). It would be more than 30 years before another volume appeared in English - A Levant Journal, as translated, edited and introduced by Roderick Beaton (Ibis Editions, Jerusalem, 2007). This is divided into two sections: Wartime (1941-1944) and The Passing of Empire (1953-1956).

In his introduction, Beaton provides more information about the diaries: ‘In the case of Seferis, it is debatable whether one should speak of a single “journal” or a series of different “journals.” In his notebooks he himself made a clear distinction between the personal journal(s), the Days, and what he called his “Service Journal,” of which two volumes have appeared in Greek under the title Political Diary. These deal essentially with matters pertaining to Seferis’s lifelong career as a civil servant in the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in which he eventually rose to the rank of ambassador. The evidence of Seferis’s personal archive, preserved in the Gennadius Library, Athens, is inconclusive as to how consistently he maintained this distinction in practice. Leaving aside the somewhat special case of the Political Diary, there are many gradations of difference even within the Days. The volume covering the 1920s, for instance, is highly literary and self-conscious in style, almost totally devoid of factual or personal information; the one that covers the early 1930s has been culled from a series of intimate letters. It is only from the mid-1930s onwards that the Days settle down, more or less, to the sharply drawn sketches and more relaxed meditations that many readers of these volumes in Greek have admired. But even here, the density and type of entry vary greatly, as does the extent of later reworking. Finally, the balance of introspection, observation, political and cultural commentary shifts from period to period, sometimes even within a single volume. As a result, even if one were to speak of a single journal, the Days, that would not be to imply a homogeneous, continuous testimony.’

Here are several extracts from Beaton’s translation of Seferis’s journals

26 August 1942
‘It must be years since last I tried to write at such an hour. From the open window, behind me, comes a cataract of sounds that I’ve never, since we came to this hotel, been able to get used to. The Arabs, the trams, the traffic, everything leaks noise. We both sleep badly. I think with bitter nostalgia of our house in Zamalek, which we lost in our mad exodus to Palestine. Panel-heaters, klaxons, engines, newspaper-sellers - it’s like the end of the world out there. I’m reminded again of the image of the ant struggling uphill with an enormous weight. It runs away from him, and he starts over, again and again. The same image as I had a year ago.

What business has a “sensitive" (in the technical sense) person in the midst of all this?

Work has been heavy, since we came, with many difficulties, and non-existent resources. Much of the time is wasted. You lie down at night and look back at your day, drained dry like a glass of water. You don’t know what’s happened, what use any of it has been.

Even in this diary I haven’t been able to write more often.

Last Saturday, the 22nd, telephone call from the British Embassy: “This afternoon at 6. To meet a distinguished person.”

Doors and portals with sentries and servitors, until you reach the inner garden. An English lawn bright green and at the end of it a triangular sail, poking up from the invisible river beyond. Various people from the newspaper world were gathered. Suddenly all conversation ceased. The signal had been given to go in. In the ballroom, a great chamber apparently in the process of being painted, in front of an exceedingly small table, hunched up like Rodin’s Thinker, except for his head that was watching and following everything, sat Churchill. He wore mauve dungarees; held in his hand, like a stubby pencil, was a long cigar. With all this crowd around him, he looked somehow smaller, as though at the far end of an enormous lecture-theater. Then he spoke and came closer. At the end, when it was time for questions, some reporter wearing a fez asked him what he thought of Rommel.

“That is the way of generals,” he replied, “sometimes to advance, sometimes to retreat. Why, no one knows . . .” ’

18 September 1942
‘To Mr. and Mrs. Lachovaris’ place. They always have company with them. A spindly Englishwoman, saying nothing, knitting. She’s going to teach Maro the language. An Englishman with fair hair and the look of an intellectual - he looks younger than he is in reality - is fairly quiet too, then bursts into speech. We discuss the life of the Arabs, old houses in Cairo, the tales of the Thousand and One Nights. He says the Egyptians don’t like it if you talk to them about this book. They think it “indecent”: they’re almost ashamed of it. But when it comes down to it, they re ashamed of everything.

Outside, it sounds like the end of the world, with shouting and soldiers singing. By now the nights are very cool, almost cold. Exhaustion every evening. Not real tiredness, more from nerves. Impression of swimming through mud. Perhaps, of course, all this may pass. Above all, there’s a lack of people. And among the few who remain, most are mad.’

14 July 1943
‘In Alexandria I met Henri al-Kayem. This time last year he’d sent me his poems published by GLM (in the manner of Jouve); but it was only now that we managed to meet. His house is bright, full of light; books with familiar spines. They offer me iced tea and black Havana cigarettes. His wife is as tiny as he is himself: she’s a Malgache. Great refinement in the movements of her hands. Both of them very soft-spoken, they almost whisper. In their house I felt crass in my movements, like a steam-roller. There’s no peace to spare, to make the most of company like theirs. This time I was sorry for it.’

23 July 1943
‘Days of such exhaustion, sometimes I feel as though I’ve taken my bath in fish-glue. Horrified to find no time left over for thinking: I’ve turned into a machine.’

7 October 1953
‘These Arab cities. Half permanent, half nomadic. Houses half buildings, half encampments. The horror of civilization chipping away all round you like a chisel, and all you can feel are the splinters. This pitiable dust in your eye: coca-cola-ism, peps i-cola-ism. Cars handled like drunken camels, and the ancient monuments, ancient beyond hope, mixed up in this inhuman muddle - sometimes it seems a pathetic nightmare.

Yesterday at the house of the doctor, the honorary consul. His wife is French, he’s very well off - with a mania for travelling the world by airplane. It could have been the ante-chamber of a modern Inferno. Photographs on the wall: the Bedouin father, face like a bird of prey or Pelecanus onocrotalus, wife at his side wearing a large cross. They’re Orthodox Chrisrians - bare electric bulbs - lacework made of nylon - a colossal frigidaire in the dining-room: Hostile walls, my God! I’m tired.’

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Manuscripts don’t burn

It’s 80 years to the day that Mikhail Bulgakov, one of Russia’s most interesting 20th century writers, died. Although feted at home for a short period in the 1920s, his satirical tone fell out of favour with the authorities, and he spent the last decade of his life unable to publish any writing. His most famous book - The Master and Margarita - was kept secret for years after his death and not published until the 1960s. Intriguingly, he had, in the book, used the phrase ‘Manuscripts don’t burn’, and this has since become a famous quote. The phrase, however, applies even more pertinently to a diary Bulgakov kept in the 1920s which, after having been confiscated by the authorities and returned, he himself destroyed! Yet, a copy was found 60 years later, buried in the KGB’s files.

Bulgakov was born in Kiev in 1891 to Russian parents, his father being a professor at the Kiev Theological Academy. He married Tatiana Lappa in 1913, and with the outbreak of the First World War volunteered as a doctor for the Red Cross. He was sent to the front line, where he was severely injured. In 1916, he graduated from the medical school at Kiev University and then served in the White Army, before also briefly serving in the Ukrainian People’s Army. After the Civil War, much of his family emigrated to Paris, but Bulgakov went to the Caucasus, and was then refused permission to leave Russia. In 1919, he gave up medicine for literature, and in 1921 moved, with Tatiana, to Moscow to pursue the life of a writer.

In Moscow, he worked as a journalist and for the literary department of the People’s Commissariat of Education. Parts of a largely autobiographical novel (much later published in English as The White Guard) were serialised in a journal. In 1924, he married again, to Lyubov Belozerskaya. In 1926, according to Wikipedia, he published a book called Morphine, which gave an account of his addiction to the drug (taken initially to ease the pain of war wounds). From the mid 1920s, though, Bulgakov mostly wrote and staged plays, especially with the Moscow Arts Theatre. He was at the height of his popularity in 1928 when he had three plays showing. But, increasingly, he found himself at odds with the Soviet authorities for the nature of his satire; and, before the end of the decade, government censorship was preventing publication of any of his work or the staging of any of his plays.

In 1929, Bulgakov wrote to Maxim Gorky (see The New York Times, for example): ‘All my plays have been banned; not a line of mine is being printed anywhere; I have no work ready, and not a kopeck of royalties is coming in from any source; not a single institution, not a single individual will reply to my applications.’ In 1931, Bulgakov married for the third time, to Yelena Shilovskaya, who would prove a dedicated and inspirational partner. And then, at a complete loss, he wrote to Stalin asking for permission to emigrate. He refused, but arranged for him find work in the theatre, as an adapter of classics and a producer. Stalin’s favour protected Bulgakov from arrest, but the political climate remained too hostile for his writing to be published.

During the last decade or so of his life, Bulgakov worked on what would become his most important literary work - The Master and Margarita, a multi-leveled satire and fantasy - but it was suppressed by the authorities. Bulgakov died on 10 March 1940, and it was not until the 1960s that The Master and Margarita was finally published, subsequently bringing its author considerable but belated worldwide attention. See also Encyclopaedia Britannica, IMDB, Library of Congress, or Russiapedia for further information.

For a few years in the 1920s, Bulgakov kept a diary, says Dr Julie Curtis, in her biography Manuscripts Don’t Burn: Mikhail Bulgakov - A Life in Letters and Diaries (published by Bloomsbury in 1991, and a few pages of which can be read online at

In her preface, Curtis writes: ‘An extraordinary story attaches to [the diary], which everyone, including Bulgakov, had supposed to have been destroyed over 60 years ago. In 1926, Bulgakov’s apartment was searched by the OGPU (a forerunner of the KGB) and his diaries were confiscated, along with the text of The Heart of a Dog. Since Bulgakov was on this occasion only marginally implicated in a case being mounted by the secret police against one of his acquaintances, he soon began to make official complaints demanding that the manuscripts be returned. He finally got them back some three years later, in 1929, whereupon he immediately burned the diaries and resolved never to keep a diary again. Since that time, it had been assumed that the diaries were lost, until the advent of Glasnost prompted the KGB to admit that, in fact, the OGPU had made a copy of at least part of of the diary back in the 1920s, and this was still sitting in the KGB’s archives.’

‘The fate of Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita,’ Curtis continues, ‘which was published after being kept secret for a decade while he was alive, and for a further 26 years after his death, together with this astonishing re-emergence of his diary 60 years on, has lent a peculiarly prophetic force to a phrase from The Master and Margarita which defiantly proclaims the integrity of art: ‘Manuscripts don’t burn.’ This is the phrase from the novel most frequently quoted in the Soviet Union today.’

Although there are relatively few entries from Bulgakov’s diary in Curtis’s book, Curtis does give more general information about them: ‘In these diaries Bulgakov is very frank, a foolishness which taught him a painful lesson when the diaries were confiscated, and which he never indulged in again; amongst other things, they contain traces of a condescension towards Jews which has caused some dismay amongst his present-day admirers. He is also candid when it comes to speaking about himself and his relationship with Lyubov, whom he describes as his ‘wife’ for some months before the official registration of their marriage. There is an unattractive irritation with himself that he should be so physically infatuated with her, and there is a hint of his doubts about the strength of her commitment to him, which seems to have led, on occasions, to him making scenes. . . The diaries reveal, too, Bulgakov’s obsessive preoccupation with his health, which may be attributable to the fact that as a doctor he knew that there was always a danger he might succumb to the same disease as his father . . . In addition, we can trace in the pages of the diaries the indications of a nervous susceptibility which would lead in due course, when his life really became difficult, to bouts of terror at being left alone and a fear of walking alone on the street. Overall, the image of Bulgakov that emerges from his diaries is not quite that of the cultivated man of letters he was to project in later years.’

Subsequent to Curtis’s biography, Roger Cockerell edited and translated a selection of  Bulgakov’s diaries and letters covering a 20 year period (1921-1940). This was published by Alma Classics in 2013 as Diaries and Selected Letters. Cockerell based his selection on a Russian edition of the diaries and letters published in 2004, though he also consulted a more complete (Russian) edition of the diaries and letters dating back to 1997.

Here are several of Bulgakov’s diary entries, as found in Cockerell’s edition.

29 October 1923
‘The heating was on for the first time today. Spent the entire evening sealing the windows. This first day of heating was especially noteworthy for the fact that the famous Annushka left the kitchen window wide open all night. I really don’t know what to do with the wretches who live in this apartment.

I have a severe nervous disorder connected with my illness, and such things drive me mad.

The new furniture from yesterday is now in my room. In order to pay on time we had to borrow five chervonets from Mozalevsky.

Mitya Stonov and Gaidovsky came round this evening, invited me to join the journal Town and Country. Then Andrei. He was reading my ‘Diaboliad’ and said that I had created a new genre and an unusually fast-moving plot.

It had only been the Moscow Agricultural Pavilion on fire at the Exhibition, and it had been quickly put out. Definitely arson, in my opinion.’

6 November 1923
‘Kolya Gladyrevsky has just gone; he’s creating my illness. After he’d left I read Mikhail Chekhov’s poorly written and second-rate book on his great brother. I’m also reading Gorky’s brilliant My Universities.

I’m now full of thoughts, and have just begun to realize clearly that I need to start being serious about things. And, what’s more, that writing is my entire life. I’ll never return to any sort of medicine. I don’t like Gorky as a person, but he’s such a huge, powerful writer, and he makes such terrifying and important points about writing.

Today, at about five, I was at Lezhnev’s, and he said two things of significance to me: firstly, that my short story ‘Psalm’ (published in On the Eve) was magnificent, as “a miniature” (“I would have published it”), and, secondly, that On the Eve was universally despised and loathed. That doesn’t frighten me. What does frighten me is the fact that I’m thirty-two, and the years I have wasted on medicine, my illness and my weakness. I’ve already had two operations on the idiotic tumour behind my ear. <...> They’ve written from Kiev to say 1 should begin radiotherapy. Now I’m afraid that the tumour will spread. And I’m afraid that this blind, stupid, detestable disease will interrupt my work. If I’m able to carry on, I’ll write something better than ‘Psalm’.

I’m going to start studying from now on. My voice may sometimes trouble me, but it cannot be anything other than prophetic. Quite impossible. And I cannot be anything other than a writer.

Let’s wait and see, learn and be silent.’

8 January 1924
‘There’s a bulletin in today’s newspapers about the state of Trotsky’s health. It begins as follows: “On the 5th November last year L. D. Trotsky was ill with influenza...” and ends as follows: “ take time off, with a full release from all his responsibilities, for a period of not less than two months.” Any further comment on this historic bulletin would be superfluous.

And so, on 8th January 1924, Trotsky was kicked out. May God help Russia: He alone knows what the future holds for her! May God help her.

Spent the evening at Boris’s. Have just got back with Taska. Great fun. I drank wine, and my heart was fine.

The chervonets is worth 3.6 billlion.’

16 April 1924
‘Just returned from the opening of the railwaymen’s congress at the Assembly of Nobility (now Union House). The entire editorial hoard of the Hooter, with very few exceptions, was there. My job with others, was to correct the shorthand report.

In the circular hall, divided by a thick curtain from the Hall of Columns, there was the clatter of typewriters and the bright electric lights of the chandeliers glowing in their frosted white shades. Kalinin, in a dark-blue shirt, round-shouldered, mispronouncing his Rs and his Ls, appeared and said something or other. In the dazzling floodlights they were filming everywhere.

After the first session, there was a concert. Mordkin and the ballerina Kriger danced together. Mordkin is handsome, flirtatious. Performers from the Bolshoi sang, including, amongst others, Viktorov, a Jew, a dramatic tenor with a repellently piercing but huge voice. A certain Golovin, a baritone from the Bolshoi, also sang. It turns out that he is a former deacon from Stavropol. Joined the Stavropol Opera and within three months was singing the part of the Demon - and then, a year or so later, found himself the Bolshoi. Incomparable voice.’

25 July 1924
‘What a day! Spent the morning at home writing a satirical piece for Red Pepper. Then the daily process began of dashing from one editor to another in search of money, without seeing any chink of light ahead. Saw the unspeakable Furman from the newspaper Dawn of the East. Two of my pieces were returned. I had great difficulty getting Furman to hand the manuscript back, since I owed them the twenty roubles they’d already paid me. I had to write him a note that I would return the money no later than the 30th. Then I handed in one of these articles to Red Pepper, together with the one I had written earlier that morning. I’m sure they’ll be rejected. And then, in the evening, Sven rejected my article for Splinter. Was at his apartment, and somehow managed to get a promissory note for 20 roubles, for tomorrow. Nightmarish existence.

To cap it all, I rang Lezhnev in the afternoon to learn that there was no point in negotiating with Kagansky concerning the publication of The White Guard as a separate edition, as he hadn’t got any money at the moment. This was a new surprise. I now regret that I didn’t take the thirty chervonets at the time. I’m sure The White Guard won’t now be published.

In short, the Devil only knows what’s going on.

It’s late, about 12; have been with Lyubov Yevgenyevna.’

5 January 1925
‘The weather in Moscow is something quite extraordinary: in the thaw everything has melted, and the mood amongst Muscovites precisely mirrors the weather. The weather suggests February, and there’s February in people’s hearts.

“How’s this all going to end?” a friend asked me today.

Such questions are asked in a dull, mechanical way, hopelessly, indifferently, any way you like. Just at that moment there was a group of drunken communists in my friend’s apartment, in a room right across the corridor. In the corridor itself there was a foully pungent smell - one of the Party members, my friend told me, was asleep there like a pig, completely drunk. Someone had invited him. and my friend hadn’t been able to refuse. Again and again he went into their room with a polite and ingratiating smile on his face. They kept shouting to him to join them. He kept coming back to me, cursing them in a whisper. Yes, right: somehow this must all stop. I believe it will!
Went specially today to the publishers of the Atheist. It’s situated in Stoleshnikov Alley or, rather, in Kozmodemyanovsky, not far from the Moscow City Council building. M.S. was with me and he delighted me from the first.

“What, aren’t they smashing in your windows?” he asked the first girl we came across, sitting at a desk.

“What do you mean?” (confused). “No, they aren’t” (threateningly).

“What a pity.”

I wanted to kiss him on his Jewish nose. It turned out that there were no copies from 1913 left. All sold, they reported proudly. We managed to get hold of the first eleven back numbers from 1924. Number 12 had not yet appeared. When she found out that I was a private individual, the young lady, if that’s the right way to descibe her, gave them to me reluctantly.

“I should really be giving this to a library.”

Apparently they have a print run of 70,000, and it’s a total sellout. There are some unspeakable swine in the office who keep on leaving the room and coming back in again; and a small stage, curtains, scenery...  On a table on the stage there’s some sacred book, a bible perhaps, with a couple of heads bent over it.

“Just like a synagogue,” said M. as we were leaving the building.

I was very interested to know just how much this had all been said for my special benefit. It would be wrong of course to exaggerate, but I have the impression that some of the people who have been reading The White Guard in Russia use a different tone of voice when speaking to me - with a kind of oblique, apprehensive deference.

I was very struck by M.’s reaction to the extract from The White Guard. It could be described as rapturous, but even before this I’d had this feeling growing inside me, a process that had been going on for some three days. I will be terribly sorry if I’m mistaken and if The White Guard is not an exceptional piece.

When I skimmed through the copies of the Atheist at home this evening I was shocked. The salt was not in the blasphemy, although that was huge, of course, if you’re looking at it just from the outside. The salt was in the idea, an idea that can be historically proved. Even Jesus Christ was being depicted as a crook and a scoundrel. It’s not difficult to understand who’s responsible for this. The offence is immeasurable.’


And here are a few entries from Yelena’s diary (found in Curtis’s biography) concerning the last few days of Bulgakov’s life.

29 September 1939
‘I will go straight to Misha’s grave illness. . . World events are seething all around us, but they reach us only indistinctly, so struck down are we by our own misfortune.’

1 January 1940
‘1939, the most difficult year in my life, has gone, and may God grant that 1940 should not be the same!’

15 January 1940
‘Misha is correcting the novel [The Master and Margarita] as much as his strength will allow, and I am copying it out . . .’

16 January 1940
‘42 degrees below zero! . . . I believe that he will get better.’

10 March 1940
‘16.39 Misha died’

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

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Congealed personalities

David Alexander Edward Lindsay, 27th Earl of Crawford and 10th Earl of Balcarres, or Bal as he was known to family and friends, died 80 years ago today. Not only did he have a long name and title, but Lord Crawford was an intriguing man, noted to be the first Lord to enlist in the army as a private (despite having been offered the post of Viceroy of India), the only cabinet minister to have ever served in the ranks, and later on chairman of the enquiry that led to the formation of the BBC. Plus, he was a very lively and interesting diarist. He kept a regular diary for nearly 50 years. Here is his first entry made while a student at Oxford: ‘I am assured that a diary must deal with nothing but people. So this is to become congealed personalities - all rasping one another.’

David Lindsay was born in at Dunecht, Aberdeenshire, in 1871, son of the 26th Earl of Crawford and 9th Earl of Balcarres. The family’s roots were in Fife, Scotland, and dated back to the signatories of the Declaration of Arbroath (1320) asking the Pope to support a bid for Scottish independence. Educated at Eton College, he went on to read history at Magdalen College, Oxford. For a while, he became involved with social work in East London. In 1895, he stood as a Conservative MP in Chorley, Lancashire, a fairly safe seat given that his father owned the neighbouring Wigan Coal and Iron Company. In 1900, he married Constance Lilian, and they would have eight children. He served as a Junior Lord of the Treasury from 1903 to 1905 under Arthur Balfour. After the Conservatives went into opposition in 1905 he was Chief Conservative Whip in the House of Commons between 1911 and 1913. That year, he succeeded his father in the earldom and took his seat in the House of Lords.

In early 1915, and having refused an offer of the Viceroyalty of India, Crawford enlisted as a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps - it was almost unheard of as those with titles or university educations were always commissioned as officers. He was stationed at Hazebrouck (about 15 miles behind the main section of the British line, running south from Ypres) where, at times, a 1,000 casualties would pass through in a day. After returning from active duty, in 1916, Crawford was admitted to the Privy Council and appointed President of the Board of Agriculture, with a cabinet seat in Herbert Asquith’s coalition government. Later that year, when David Lloyd George became Prime Minister, Crawford was appointed Lord Privy Seal, then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He was made First Commissioner of Works in 1921, and the following year Minister of Transport. He retained these two posts until the coalition government fell in late 1922. In 1925, he chaired a committee on the future of broadcasting which led to the formation of the BBC. Apart from his political career, Crawford was Chancellor of the University of Manchester between 1923 and 1940, a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery and a Deputy Lieutenant of Lancashire. He died on 8 March 1940. Further information is available from Wikipedia, The Peerage, or the UK Parliament.

Crawford left behind 54 volumes of bound diaries covering the years 1892 to 1940. They were first edited by John Vincent and published in 1984 by Manchester University Press as The Crawford Papers: The Journals of David Lindsay, Twenty-seventh Earl of Crawford and Tenth Earl of Balcarres. Much of the book can be previewed at Googlebooks. In 2013, Pen & Sword published Private Lord Crawford’s Great War Diaries: From Medical Orderly to Cabinet Minister as edited by Christopher Arnander, one of Crawford’s grandsons. According to Arnander his grandfather’s diaries ‘have become essential reading for those interested in the political, artistic and social scene of his era.’ Indeed, his diaries are both interesting and entertaining to read. The following extracts - starting with the first entry (at least the first published entry) - are taken from both books.

16 May 1892
‘I am assured that a diary must deal with nothing but people. So this is to become congealed personalities - all rasping one another.’

22 July 1892
‘I had to take seven children to Dunmow in Essex... Many of these children had never been into the country before and I had to tell them what a tree was, and which animals were cows. One boy saw a big flock of sheep and explained to his neighbour that they were pigs!... They will be away for a fortnight and I have no doubt they will return looking more angelic than ever. We have now sent off 700 or 800 and the emigration will go on during the whole of August... The parents nearly always do their best to help us in raising the necessary funds.’

6 October 1896
‘At night I became a Druid: and addressed a hundred local Druids assembled at the Joiners’ Arms. They use beer nowadays, instead of woad, do these Druids.

The death of William Morris is a sad loss to me: he filled a gap in my life - among my acquaintances: I know none to replace him, though this applies with an hundredfold strength to many others.’

9 July 1905
‘I watched the procession of demonstrators march down Pail Mall to their rendex- vous in Hyde Park - to support the unemployed bill.73 They cheered while passing the Reform Club, and hooted while passing the Carlton, though we are responsible for this measure - responsible also for letting it expire. There were apparently no unemployed in the procession: but lots of flags, and well-dressed people actually in top hats: also bicycles and smartish young women with red rosettes. An orderly and prosperous assembly, which by the way must have got drenched later on in the rain. On the whole I imagine the unemployed bill is the most unpopular measure among our men which has been introduced during the last ten years.

16 May 1909
‘As to Petworth, the contrast of the splendid pictures with the dirt and squalor of the House moved me to pity. I have never seen such neglect. The great show apartments containing this superb collection are carpeted with tattered linoleum, the windows grubby, the fireplaces almost rusting. As for the chapel, which is apparently used as the electrician’s workshop, I have seldom seen a more melancholy vista. The big gallery with mud-coloured walls is a kind of lumber room: with a little care, intelligence, and expenditure what a splendid achievement this gallery would be.
After a perfectly enchanting drive we found ourselves at Goodwood. The Duke of Richmond (a peppery little Duke I should say) and a handsome daughter. Lady Helen, gave us tea and showed off the pictures. Here is care and affection well bestowed and amply repaid. Without taste they have disposed their possessions to great advantage, while the fact that this is a family accretion of pictures rather than the collection of an astute amateur, gives merits to the Goodwood ptnacoieca which the Petworth pictures can never acquire.’

16 December 1915
Most of the morning made unbearable by the vidange - our cesspools in the courtyard being sucked dry by a machine worked by the ASC. I am bound to say these men do their work with great thoroughness, as indeed all of the sanitary duties of the army are carried out - altogether admirable. The greatest care has been devoted to the prophylactic measures. I met a RAMC colonel in Le Havre in June who told me that, being unfit for active service in the field, he had obtained a roving commission to kill flies. Le Havre itself was within his jurisdiction. He was confident of being able to reduce the number of disease carriers by many hundred millions. Practically the whole of the drainage of Le Havre is now managed by our sanitary policy. Here in Hazebrouck our sanitary squads keep the town clean and it is the same in all the big villages of the neighbourhood. Without such precautions the whole thing would come to grief in a week or two. In combination with inoculation, they have succeeded in eradicating typhoid, typhus and in reducing to a very small minimum all the normal infectious diseases which can be carried by vermin or by dirt.

Great incinerators are at work everywhere, and though the French smiled superciliously at the outset, they now appreciate what is being done and constantly apply to the ASC and RAMC for help. Seldom can such help be given for the care of our own military units taxes the efforts of the staff to the utmost, and there must be some limit to the number of men employed on such jobs, though the sanitary condition of our troops and the areas they occupy is a primary consideration to the GHQ. One officer is devoting his whole time to analysis of foodstuffs - not with a view to testing its qualities, but in order to make the best possible distribution of nutritive material.’

18 December 1915
‘The ambulance train was very late today. We stood waiting on the bleak and exposed railway platform over an hour. A very long train drew slowly through and from the faces mass ed at each window we quickly saw that it was a big force of drafts for the line. As they passed through the station we were greeted with shouts of welcome, snatches of song and cries of ‘are we
downhearted? - followed by the odious chorus of ‘No’. We watched the procession with sad reflections of those who are no longer gay in approaching the criss of war. Some minutes later the troop train backed on to the platform next to where we were expecting the ambulance. The carriage windows were still crowded as before with noisy travellers. Gradually the shouting and chaffing subsided. Those who had the front view slowly realised who were the occupants of the platform - why so many men had arms in slings and heads bound up why others had both feet swathed in white cotton boots, why so many RAMC men were standing there, why there was a long row of tenanted stretchers. All this they gradually realised. The men further back inside the carriages came to understand it too and almost suddenly this whole trainload of new soldiers, 1,200 of them or more, was startled into silence, complete, tense and respectful. For the first time these men were in presence of the real thing.’

22 December 1915
‘The news of Livio’s death touches me closely - he was one of the most powerful intellects I ever knew, but so diffident in manner and so self-disparaging that he always did himself an injustice. He died at Padua while in training. The name recalls to me the gay times of my happy and irresponsible youth when I spent a joyous week in its colonnades celebrating the tercentenary of Galileo. I was then an undergraduate - representing the Oxford Union at the festivities, and had a succès fou with the Italian students. How gloomy these colonnades must have seemed to Aunt Ada during the last week of Livio’s life.’

16 January I9i6
‘We have now to unload from the ambulance train on its return from Remy sding. As the train doesn’t draw up on the platform we have to walk out along the rails - getting patients out is difficult, and with stretcher cases decidedly dangerous - for when it is dark one stumbles over points, wires and so forth and trains pass us, jamb us up and generally make the job burdensome to all concerned.

For folly and tactlessness commend me to GHQ. They have just issued as a order to be communicated to troops, the reprint of a lengthy leading article which appeared in the New York Tribune on 28 October 1915. The article is clear and has its good points - but it is based on the irremediable optimism which has haunted our path throughout and contains the following sentence; ‘The decisive part of the war so far as the battlefield is concerned is now over for Germany!’ The three months which have elapsed since this observation have marked the final cataclysm of Serbia and Montenegro, our defeats in Mesopotamia and our withdrawal from the Gallipoli peninsula, where we have not left a single man, according to Asquith’s boast - though he forgot to add a reference to 50,000 corpses. One wonders what may have been the object of GHQ in circulating this document. Is it to hearten the troops, to educate us, to be cynical and sarcastic at our expense?

Bathed with an RFC man who told me that last week we accounted for less than six German aeroplanes. Can this be true? For Haig has vouchsafed us nothing but bad news about our airmen, yet my informant was a sober slow thinking individual who seemed quite certain of his facts. Why is the RFC unpopular? Are we jealous of their high pay and of their beautifullv tailored costume, of their waists, their caps, their short jackets, and of the swank which these assets seem to produce? No unit ‘keeps itself to itself’ more than the RFC and I must admit that they consort as little as possible with the vulgus of the British Army. The corps is fashionable - all are heroes in the eyes of the novelty-loving public, yet the percentage who actually do the flying is quite small.’

24 January 1916
‘The colonel asked me this evening if I should like to be a quartermaster in the RAMC and indicated that if I so desired the matter could be arranged. I told him that I would much prefer to continue in the scientific work of the operating theatre, work which interests me enormously and which for a man of my age seems more suitable than a quartermastership - for the latter is a post which should be reserved for old and experienced soldiers, upon whom it is the greatest compliment to confer commissioned rank, and a reward for long and faithful service in the army. Of course the quartermastership is the only commission in the RAMC which can be given to a man who is not qualified as doctor, so I must remain an NCO so long as I am in the RAMC, unless the WO were to give commissions for administrative work at home, for which there has hitherto been no occasion. I wish however that there were more chances of being useful in the theatre, not that I want more men to be wounded - heaven forbid - but I wish that we occupied a position where wounded men are treated instead of our present station which is more convenient for sick and convalescent men.’

17 February 1916
‘A band played in the square this afternoon. I think Coldstream but we could not get away to listen. All day long waiting for evacuation train. When it came in from Remy siding it was overcrowded and only two of our cases could be taken on board. Patients were lying in the passages and many had to be left behind. Nevertheless our motor ambulance convoy has done very little today. The orders are to evacuate by train so as to save petrol. The result is that men are left behind who should be got to the base or at least to Hazebrouck. And the cars which could do the work are lying idle meantime. Men who come from the line today and yesterday all speak with horror of the German offensive which has been very closely concentrated, though on relatively small fronts. Haig admits the loss of 600yds of front line trench on Monday and Tuesday - but it is generally agreed that in certain cases at least two lines were captured. A curious rumour is current that Turkish troops are against us in the salient. I am inclined to doubt it. Bulgarians perhaps, but hardly Turks. Were Ottoman soldiers transported to Flanders one would scarcely know whether to assume it means a grave shortage of German reinforcements, or to admire the Boche for his genius in slave-driving.’

18 February 1916
‘A Taube visited Hazebrouck last night - at midnight we were awakened by three or four violent explosions. Nunn, Lisgo and I thereupon went to bed again after looking out of the window, but Dawson made us come downstairs as our attic is unsafe - and all the patients from the upper wards were likewise removed shivering to the cellar. We got to bed again about one o’clock. One bomb fell about 80yds from us into the RFC billets and wounded several men of whom one has since died. Another bomb fell about 100yds from us in the main street, so we had a fortunate escape.’

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Holiday on our Earth

Happy birthday Viktor Petrovich Savinykh, 80 years old today. An heroic figure in the Soviet Union, he took part in three space flights in the 1980s, and went on to become president of the Moscow State University of Geodesy and Cartography. During his second space mission, on Soyuz T-13 and T-14, he kept a diary, later published in Pravda. Subsequently, the US’s Foreign Broadcast Information Service published an English translation. Here is Savinykh in that diary musing philosophically towards the end of the mission: ‘I got up earlier than the other fellows for the first session. I listened to congratulatory telegrams. While the fellows were sleeping, I prepared a “Holiday Breakfast”. Today is a holiday on our Earth and that means for us as well, since we are a small part of our Homeland, which made all this equipment and entrusted it to us to work on. This is a very great trust. And a [huge] responsibility which lies on us. . .’

Savinykh was born in Berezkiny, Kirov Oblast, Russia, some 900 km ENE of Moscow, on 7 March 1940. He was educated locally in the secondary school at Tarasov, and subsequently at the Perm College of Railway Transport. After working briefly on the Sverdlovsk railway as a team leader, he joined the Soviet army in the railway troops, and then took part in the construction of the Ivdel-Ob highway. From 1963, he studied at the Optical and Mechanical Faculty of the Moscow Institute of Geodesy, Aerial Photography and Cartography Engineers (MIIGAiK - later the Moscow State University of Geodesy and Cartography), graduating in 1969. He then went to work at the Central Design Bureau of Experimental Engineering; and, in December 1978, he was selected for cosmonaut training. He married Lilia Alekseevna, a teacher, and they have one daughter.

Savinykh was involved with many of the Soviet space missions in the 1980s, and flew with three of them as flight engineer. His first space flight took place from March to May in 1981 on Soyuz T-4 spacecraft. His second, June-November 1985, was on Soyuz T-13, transporting personnel to the Soviet space station Salyut 7. It was a mission which proved unusually complex, and involved return on Soyuz T-14. His third flight, on Soyuz TM-5, was part of an international mission in June 1988 that docked with the Mir station. He retired from active service in 1989, and went on to teach at, be rector of and then president of, MIIGAiK. He is the author of a number of textbooks and monographs, articles on remote sensing of the Earth from space, as well as popular science books about space. He is the recipient of many awards and honours, not least being named Hero of the Soviet Union twice. Further biographical information (which largely focuses on his space achievements) is available at Wikipedia (an English translation of the Russian page has more details), Astronautix or Geodesy and Cartography.

During his second space flight, Savinykh kept a near daily diary. He had some kind of agreement with the Russian newspaper Pravda which later published the diary.
Pravda described it as the ‘compressed chronicle, a summary of the thoughts and feelings which arise in the alternation of space days and nights’. Subsequently, the article was picked up, translated and published by the US’s Foreign Broadcast Information Service in its USSR Report - Space dated 12 September 1986 - available online as a pdf. More about the mission, and the diary, can be read in Soviet Space Programs: Piloted space activities, launch vehicles, launch sites, and tracking support put out by the US Government Printing Office in 1988.

Here are some extracts from Savinykh’s flight diary.

10 June 1985
‘Today is the first time I have managed to write a few words. Inside the station it is cold, the viewports have frost on them, like windows in wintertime in the country. There is frost on the metal parts, near the hull. We sleep in the living quarters compartment of the ship in sleeping bags, it is not cold there. We work in warm overalls and down hats borrowed from home. Our feet freeze in our flight boots and so do our hands if we don’t have any gloves on. Within the station it is quiet and dark. We work in the light and at night we use lamps. Our health is good. Hope has emerged.’

11 June 1985
‘We turned on the lights at the first post and how it made a difference in living conditions. And in the evening we even warmed up some canned goods and bread and dined on a hot meal. A Holiday! Today we spent almost the entire day in the station and by evening we were quite frozen. Volodya’s feet were warmed up by the heaters which had warmed up by dinnertime. We did not look at the Earth. Again a complete overhaul, but much more complicated. The lifeless station is slowly coming back to life.

Yes, we tried a hot meal for the first time already a week after our launch.

Finally, the quietness of our “carriage” stopped being so oppressive. The first live sound we heard was the noise of the drive for the solar batteries. I stood (or more accurately, hung) opposite the 10th viewport, looking at the 4th plane. The reduction gear began to make a noise, the plane deployed and life began.

The clocks and the “Globus” began ticking and the ventilators started making a sucking noise. Without them it was recommended to us that there not be two people in the work compartment at the same time. We could exhale around ourselves such a cloud of C02 that it would then be impossible to breathe. But, in fact, it is not possible to sit in separate compartments all the time. In order not to make the ground nervous we said we were separated but, in actual fact, of course, we were working together, dispersing the clouds around ourselves, each using his own primitive method.

Our subsequent life also took shape. Exposed panels on the walls and ceiling, a huge number of hoses and cables strung out along the entire length of the station, an endless search for the needed connectors, their attachment and detachment in order to check the instruments and equipment.’

22 June 1985
‘In the morning we were supposed to take photos in accordance with the “Kursk-85” program, but once again cloudiness did not allow this. And at the next session our wives came into the Flight Control Center. We missed their voices and those of the children. For two sessions the conversation concerned matters on Earth. My daughter still has one exam left - physics. And the Graduation Ball is already scheduled for the 26th. The time had come to say goodbye to school. For me these years had sped by completely unnoticed, they had been devoted to preparations for flights...

There is one term that is closely connected with cosmonautics: psychological support. Sometimes the specialists in this field have been puzzled as to why I show such passive concern regarding the selection of artists for concert programs on board the station. And not just me alone. But we did not get together up there to harass people with our own whims in connection with favorite or disliked performers. We are grateful to everyone who comes to Ostankino to share their lively words and songs. The main support lies in how things are going. You solve the latest problem - and you are literally flying on wings.

I remember a lot of things, at times even things not very notable to another person, with gratitude. The arrival of Vladimir Kovalenko at the institute to defend my dissertation. A film with a farewell recording of the great pilot, Ivan Kozhedub, prepared before the journey by the fellows from the radio industry. A twig of absinth placed in the on-board journal by Aleksey Leonov. A professional conversation with an intelligent, precise and composed specialist who understands you. I would like to mention Stanislav Andreyevich Savchenko, the developer of many astrophysical and geophysical programs. At such a great distance he can sense with amazing accuracy how you are working with an instrument, at which star a viewport is looking and what your mood is in general. Or a conversation on sailing with the famous trainer and teacher, Sergey Mikhaylovich Voytsekhovskiy, and with world-recordholder Volodya Salnikov. We discussed with them not only the secrets of sports mastery, but also the design of possible training simulators, for example, a rowing machine, to supplement adequately and suitably our on-board equipment... The festive meetings with cosmonauts from fraternal countries -  Gurragcha , Germashevskiy, Jehn , Prunariu, Mendez. The voices of our fellows - Volodya Solovyev, Lenya Popov, Sasha Aleksandrov, Svetlana Savitskaya and all the others. You can note how the mood improves after all these things, as does productivity.’

25 June 1985
‘Yesterday we were so tired I had neither the strength nor the time to write. I hardly got out of the supply ship. We changed out the water heater, flooded it with water, thoroughly washed out all the hoses and were soon drinking tea. After our exercises we had three packets of tea with milk. What a story!

Now the station resembles a train depot: packages, sacks, assemblies, containers of food. All this stuff that arrived and such excessive quantities. It forms an obstruction. Equipment arrived for going outside - we are beginning to put the stuff up and check it.”

Regarding dreams. For some reason the most frequent and most alarming dream is a search for some kind of hose or connector. You look and look but you just can’t seem to find it...’

26 June 1985
‘I had a headache this morning. Apparently there is poor ventilation in the sleeping area since everything is heaped up in there. I took some Analgin and it went away. Today I extended the air pipe.’

27 July 1985
‘For two sessions we watched the Moscow Festival on the screen. The picture was excellent and the weather did not let us down. Two festival participants, absent for a valid reason (as they said on the television), ensured the weather.

Now it was necessary to ensure the “weather” on the station as well. And to do this it was necessary to go out into space and build up the third solar battery. The preparations for the excursion were more complicated than usual. During the check-out my suit turned out to be non-hermetic. We looked and looked and we found where it was hissing. It turned out that in weightlessness one small strap from inside had gotten into the joint for closing the knapsack. It was necessary to shorten it. Additional time was spent on all this. A note recalls: “1 August was a day off, but we spent the whole day on preparations.” Finally, my first excursion into open space.’

12 August 1985
‘A communications session was held and I watched the clock, and such is the picture I saw. My mother in a bright rural cottage and guests gathering. Today is my daughter’s birthday. Grandmother has pirogies. And our work proceeded, the day is going excellently.’

14 August 1985
‘We conducted an experiment in accordance with the line of the GKNT for the purpose of determining the pollution of the atmosphere of cities. We worked in the Zaporozhye area. Good orientators, we had previously set the gyroscopes and were accurate and then we kept it in the field of vision of all the equipment: the MKF-6, the MKS-M and the rest...’

7 November 1985
‘I got up earlier than the other fellows for the first session. I listened to congratulatory telegrams. While the fellows were sleeping, I prepared a ‘Holiday Breakfast.’ Today is a holiday on our Earth and that means for us as well, since we are a small part of our Homeland, which made all this equipment and entrusted it to us to work on. This is a very great trust. And a hugh [sic] responsibility which lies on us. . .’

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

A son of the middle border

‘I am settled in a neat room at 58 East 25th and now sit writing therein waiting for my trunks to arrive. Already I feel the superciliousness of this old town, not toward me but toward my people. The feeling that nothing worthwhile exists in the West, that things are so much superior here. This conception runs through every conversation. It annoys and embitters me.’ This is Hamlin Garland, an American writer who died 80 years ago today, confiding in his diary about his feelings having just arrived in New York City. By then he was already well known, for writing fiction about the West in a realist style - such as in Main-Travelled Roads - but later in life he found more popular success with his autobiographical books, many based on the diaries he had kept. Extracts from his diaries were first published in the 1960s, and a major biography, issued quite recently in 2008, relies significantly on the diaries.

Garland was born in 1860 near West Salem, Wisconsin, the second of four children. The family lived on various farms, moving progressively westward; but by 1884 Garland had decided against the pioneering life for himself and moved to Boston, Massachusetts. Largely self-taught, with many hours spent in public libraries, he became a teacher, and then a touring lecturer. His first success as a writer was with Main-Travelled Roads, a collection of short stories published in 1891. Highly acclaimed, the book provided an unromantic view of the pioneering farming life. He dedicated the book to his parents: ‘whose half-century pilgrimage on the main roads of life has brought them only toil and deprivation.’ In 1893, he moved to Chicago (although in the years to come he would spend some winters in New York City), and soon after published Crumbling Idols in which he put forward his theory of realistic fiction, which he called ‘veritism’.

In 1895, Garland published Rose of Dutcher’s Coolly, which tells the story of a sensitive young woman who rebels against the drudgery of farm life and goes to Chicago to pursue her talent for literature. Around this time, he began visiting the American West, making notes about the cowboys, the mountain scenery so unlike his native Wisconsin, and American Indians. Several of his Indian stories were collected much later in The Book of the American Indian. He serialised a biography of Ulysses S. Grant in McClure’s Magazine before publishing it as a book in 1898. That same year, he traveled to the Yukon to witness the Klondike Gold Rush, which inspired The Trail of the Gold Seekers. In 1899, he married Zulime Taft, the sister of a sculptor, and they had two daughters. Over the next 15 years he published a series of romances. For much of his life he had lived on a farm in Iowa, but in 1915 he moved to New York City to be closer to his publishers and literary life.

Tiring of fiction, Garland turned to reminiscing about his early life, and A Son of the Middle Border, which appeared serially before being brought out in book form in 1917, to nearly universal acclaim. Its sequel, A Daughter of the Middle Border, won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1922. Several further volumes followed until 1929 when he moved to California. There, he revived an earlier interest in psychic phenomena, which led to two further books. He died on 4 March 1940. Further information is available from The Hamlin Garland Society, Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica and Spartacus Educational.

A major biography of Garland by Keith Newlin was published in 2008 - Hamlin Garland: A Life - by University of Nebraska Press (some pages can be previewed at Googlebooks). In his acknowledgements, Newlin notes that his chief sources for details of Garland’s private life were ‘voluminous letters, manuscripts, and especially his diaries’. He further explains that Garland began keeping a diary at the start of 1898, but that it wasn’t until after the success A Son of the Middle Border that he realised that his diaries could provide source material for further family history books. Newlin also notes that, in his biography of Garland, he tended to rely upon the diaries ‘for first impressions and the details of his remarkable life’ rather than on Garland’s own polished memoirs.

Some 40 years earlier, in 1868, The Huntington Library, which holds the Garland archive of diaries, published a selection of extracts as edited by Donald Pizer: Hamlin Garland’s Diaries. This can be read online by borrowing it from Internet Archive (requires free log-in). Rather than organised chronologically, the diary extracts are arranged by topics (places, events, personalities etc.). Here is a selection of those extracts.

19 December 1898 [New York]
‘I am settled in a neat room at 58 East 25th and now sit writing therein waiting for my trunks to arrive. Already I feel the superciliousness of this old town, not toward me but toward my people. The feeling that nothing worthwhile exists in the West, that things are so much superior here. This conception runs through every conversation. It annoys and embitters me.’

27 April 1899 [London]
‘Bang! I find myself plump in the middle of London. After a swift ride through green England under a misty white sky I shot suddenly under a yellow pall which overhung the great English-speaking maelstrom. It was not unlike the change which comes in sweeping into Chicago from the West. I found the city distracting with its ugly omnibuses, its rush of cabs, and its maze of streets, but less noisy, less imposing in bulk than I had imagined it would be. It seemed dingy, dark, multitudinous but not toweringly impressive. I stayed at a little hotel called the Edwards House near the Euston Station. A very primitive place. Indeed, everything I saw was primitive.’

23 July 1906 [Verona]
‘Verona interested me so much I determined to stay another day. I wandered about the streets till the last minute. First of all by good luck I blundered into the cattle market and got an enfilading shot at a crowd of several hundred farmers. I stood about watching them barter. They looked not unlike Kansans of the “hard times” of 1890 - lean, brown as leather, and poorly clothed - but when they began to trade they were of a different world! They yelled, they pushed, they pulled. They became fierce of face and ego. A trade was a battle. It was all deeply diverting to me.’

12 August 1917 [New York]
‘I left at 3 p.m. for the city in the midst of the most amazing collection of New York City Hebrews. Pink, brown, hook-nosed, straight-nosed, young, old - all chattering or bawling. They mobbed the train. They shoved, elbowed, pulled and pushed for seats, clamoring, shouting, all in perfect good humor. They were not poor, nor illiterate, but they were without a particle of reserve or politeness. Their nasal voices silenced all other outcry. The few “Americans” on the train were lost in this flood of alien faces, forms and voices. The women [were] mostly all short, many with handsome features but no grace of body. From a humanitarian point of view I should have been glad of their number for they were returning from a happy outing but as I was lame, their jostling greediness made me angry and their lack of the ordinary civilities of life disgusted me. I was glad when I got to the flat and to bed.’

24 July 1936 [Los Angeles]
‘It is not pleasant to feel oneself growing toward futility but such is the lot of most men of seventy or more. The question arises in me, “What shall I do to fill out my days?” I saw this sadness come to Howells and Burroughs. They both kept on writing when the public no longer desired their books. There are books that I might write but I feel no urge to set about their composition. My eyes will not sustain the strain. I cannot take on a history or biography for the reason that too much reading and travel would be involved. I can only set down what is in my mind.’

9 November 1936 [Los Angeles]
‘Constance informed me today that she and Joe, after eight years of wedded life, had agreed to separate, and so I, who have stood for decency and loyalty in social life, find myself with two daughters seeking divorces! There is every prospect that my final years of life will be clouded by these daughters who were for nearly thirty years my pride and joy. There is nothing to be done. They are both grown women and have all the character Zulime and I could give them. If they elect to see “freedom” in the way of the women of today, I cannot prevent them. I am too old and, at this moment, too sick to even argue the matter with them.

All this, as I said to Zulime, is just more evidence that our world is disintegrating. Lorado’s death and this sudden declaration of purpose on our daughters’ part coming together while we are both weakened and disheartened is almost more than we can surmount. However, we shall probably go on very much as usual.’

26 April 1938 [Los Angeles]
‘It is difficult for me to abandon the hope of achievement. For more than fifty years I have arisen each morning in the determination to do something to make the day worthwhile. I am now facing emptiness and futility. I begin each day with a sense of dismay.”Another empty day!” The attempt to justify the mere living ends in failure. We walk of a morning. I do little writing. I doze often. I send a few letters. I work a little in the garden and end the day by taking Zulime to the theater which she enjoys, mainly, I think, because it enables her to forget her disabilities and her loneliness, for she also lives almost wholly within herself. Our daughters her us as best they can, but they cannot neglect their own affairs in order to comfort us. In this condition of mind and body of men like Frederick Peterson and others of my friends undoubtedly spend those years beyond the biblical limit. I hope they have a philosophy which sustains them. I have none.’