Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Revolutionary, prime minister, author

Volodymyr Vynnychenko, a key figure in the early 20th century history of Ukraine, was born 140 years ago today. However, after failing to win independence from Russia for his country, he remained permanently in exile and focused on his writing career, producing many successful novels, plays and short stories. He also kept a detailed diary all his adult life - to date some five volumes have been published.
Vynnychenko was burn on 28 July 1880 in what is now central Ukraine but was then part of the Russian Empire. His father, once a peasant, married his mother, a widow with three children. In 1900, he enrolled in Kiev University, and the same year he joined the Revolutionary Ukrainian Party. Within a year or two, though, he was expelled from the university for taking part in revolutionary activities. During the years leading up to the First World War, he fled abroad many times to avoid arrest (though spent a year in prison at one point), returning clandestinely to continue his revolutionary activities. In 1911 he married Rosalia Lifshitz, a French Jewish doctor. He was a member of the executive committee of the Ukrainian Social Democratic Workers’ party (USDRP) and editor of its journal Borot’ba. During the war he lived in Moscow illegally, returning to Ukraine in 1917 to become a prominent leader in the struggle for independence. 
Vynnychenko was vice-president of the Central Rada (formed as a governing council for Ukraine) and was the first president of the general secretariat. He then headed the opposition Ukrainian National Union and the Directorate of the Ukrainian National Republic before the independence movement was crushed by the Soviets. Thereafter, in exile again, he organised the Ukrainian Communist Party and began to negotiate with the Soviet authorities for an independent Ukrainian socialist state. He was offered high-level posts in the Soviet Ukrainian government but, ultimately, efforts to attain an independent state failed. He returned to exile, first in Germany then France, focusing on his literary career - he had been publishing short stories since his student years. He produced many novels and plays, some of which were translated and performed across Europe. He also published a memoir, Rebirth of a Nation. A many-volume edition of his works was published in the 1920s, but, subsequently and until the 1980s, his works were forbidden in Ukraine. He died in 1951. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, the Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine, and in the Encyclopedia of Nationalism (edited by Alexander J. Motyl and available for preview at Googlebooks).
Vynnychenko was a dedicated diarist, starting in 1911 and continuing throughout his life. To date, five volumes of his diaries have been published (in Ukrainian) by the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press: vol 1 (1911-20); 2 (1921-25); 3 (1926-28), 4 (1929-31) and 5 (1932-36), all edited and with annotations by Hryhorii Kostiuk). Some references to the diary can be found in the English-language, Faces of Displacement: The Writings of Volodymyr Vynnychenko by Mykola Soroka (McGill-Queen’s Press, 2012).
Of volume 4 of the diaries, the publisher says: [This] is an excellent primary source for the study of the life and thought of this major Ukrainian figure as well as of the cultural climate of Eastern and Western Europe from 1929 to 1931. Living in exile in France, Vynnychenko recorded his interaction with West European cultural figures, as well as his relations with the Ukrainian intelligentsia and émigré politicians. This volume contains many of his theories and musings on political, cultural, and philosophical issues. In particular, Vynnychenko comments extensively on the growing Stalinist repressions in the Ukrainian SSR and on the global economic crisis. This unique document, full of intimate reflections, political visions, and philosophical and psychological contemplations, will be of interest to a broad audience concerned with Ukrainian and world literature, culture, and history.’ A review of the same volume can be found in the January 2015 edition of East/West Journal of Ukrainian Studies (available online at ResearchGate). 
I have been unable to find any extracts translated into English and I have, therefore, chosen at random two extracts in Ukrainian from volume 1, scanned them with an OCR programme, and then translated them into English using Google’s automatic translation facility. The resulting text is surprisingly readable, though, of course, I cannot vouch for its accuracy.
25 May 1918
‘It is necessary to read Ukrainian history with bromine - before that it is one of unhappy, senseless, helpless stories, before that it is painful, annoying, bitter, sad to reread how an unhappy, obsessed, shabby nation did only that during all time of the state (or rather: semi-state) existence, which gnawed on all sides: from the Poles, Russians, Tatars, Swedes. The whole history is a series, an uninterrupted, continuous series of uprisings, wars, fires, famines, raids, military coups, intrigues, quarrels, undermining. Isn’t that the same thing happening now? They just wanted to live a state life, as the old story begins: Moscow is full of energy and does not want to let go. On the other hand, Poland is already standing, having prepared legions. The stronger one came, drove Moscow away, pushed the Poles away, and grabbed him by the throat and squeezed everything he could. The fourth, Austria, also sucked in from the side.’
23 June 1920
‘Surprisingly, when it seemed to them that I had agreed to what they liked, I was immediately given a car and even a separate train to move to Kharkiv. When it turned out that they were wrong, that I was standing on my own, so there is not even a place in a regular train. We have to beg to be allowed to leave. “All-Ukrainian Starost” Petrovsky has a separate car, cook, salon, etc. He promised to take me with him. But. It turns out that there is no place for me in his car, he recruited “specialists” for Ukraine from here. need not be.
And again we have to state that we were there in Vienna, extremely naive. Here people are such lonely people as everywhere. The worker Petrovsky, a communist and revolutionary, also sees the greatest value of life in saloon cars, cars, telephones and trifles ... [This sentence is interrupted].’

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Cannon out of the River

‘Went on the Ice about 8 o’clock in the morning & proceeded so cautiously that before night we got over three sleds & were so lucky as to get the Cannon out of the River. . .’ This is from a short diary kept by Henry Knox, born 270 years ago today and the youngest major general in the Continental Army under George Washington. He kept the journal while trekking 300 miles to Fort Ticonderoga and then back to Boston dragging captured cannon - artillery which gave the revolutionaries a decisive advantage over the British.
Knox was born on 25 July 1750 in Boston, Massachusetts, into a large family of pioneers from Northern Ireland. His father was a shipbuilder who ran into financial difficulties and died young. Knox was obliged to leave school aged nine to become a clerk in a bookstore to help support the family. He profited from access to books by teaching himself French, maths and philosophy. In 1770, he was a witness to the Boston Massacre, and testified at the trials of the accused soldiers. The following year he opened his own bookshop, which allowed him to pursue his interests in history, military matters and especially artillery. In 1772, he became a member of the Boston Grenadier Corps, a local militia group opposing British authority. In 1774, he married Lucy Flucker, against the wishes of her father, a Boston loyalist. They would have 13 children, although only one son survived to adulthood.
In 1775, Knox served under General Artemas Ward during the siege of Boston. During the winter, he trekked from Fort Ticonderoga to bring captured British artillery back to Boston - arms which proved crucial in controlling the city. When Washington arrived to take command of the Continental Army, Knox was commissioned a colonel and placed in charge of artillery. In 1777, while the army was in winter quarters at Morristown, New Jersey, he returned to Massachusetts to improve the Army’s artillery manufacturing capability. He raised an additional battalion of artillerymen and established an arsenal at Springfield, Massachusetts, before returning to the main army in the spring.
In the Philadelphia campaign, Knox, by then a brigadier general, distinguished himself in commanding the artillery at Monmouth, New Jersey, and later at the decisive Siege of Yorktown in 1781. He was made a major general; and at the end of the war, he succeeded Washington as commander of the army. Knox resigned his command early in 1784 and returned to Boston. The following year he was made secretary of war in the government under the Articles of Confederation and retained the position in President Washington’s first cabinet. As such, he was responsible for implementing early policies toward Native Americans, and managing the conflicts with them. He believed that Indian nations were sovereign and possessed the land they occupied, though his views had little impact on future government policy.
Knox retired to a large estate at Thomaston, Maine, in 1795, where he involved himself in all kinds of business, including cattle farming, ship building, and real estate speculation. He was made a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1805. He died the following year, aged only 56, and was buried with full military honours. Many towns and counties as well as two forts are named after him. Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia, Historic Valley Force, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Knox Museum or New World Encyclopaedia.
Knox’s grandson, rear-admiral Henry Knox, presented, in the 19th century, a collection of his grandfather’s manuscripts to the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Within this collection is a short diary kept by Knox during his expedition to and from Ticonderoga. The edited text of this diary can found in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Volume 30 (see Googlebooks). Images of all 30 pages of the original manuscript with exact transcriptions can also be found at the Online Collections website of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Here are a few extracts.
8 January 1776 
‘Went on the Ice about 8 o’clock in the morning & proceeded so cautiously that before night we got over three sleds & were so lucky as to get the Cannon out of the River, owing to the assistance the good people of the City of Albany gave, in return for which we christen’d her - The Albany.’
9 January 1776
‘Got several spare slays also some spare string of horses, in case of any accident. After taking my leave of General Schuyler & some other of my friends in Albany, I sat out from there about twelve o’clock & went as far as Claverac, about 9 Miles beyond Kinderhook. I first saw all the Cannon set out from the ferry opposite Albany.’
10 January 1776
‘Reach’d No. 1, after having climb’d mountains from which we might almost have seen all the Kingdoms of the Earth.’
11 January 1776
‘Went 12 miles thro’ the Green Woods to Blanford. It appear’d to me almost a miracle that people with heavy loads should be able to get up & down such Hills as are here, with any thing of heavy loads. 
At Blanford we overtook the first division who had tarried here untill we came up, and refus’d going any further, on acco[unt] that there was no snow beyond five or six miles further in which space there was the tremendous Glasgow or Westfield mountain to go down. But after about three hours persuasion, I hiring two teams of oxen, they agreed to go.’

Friday, July 24, 2020

Scott’s literary property

Zelda Fitzgerald, wife and muse of the great American novelist, Scott Fitzgerald, was born 120 years ago today. The couple married young, and their wild and extravagant New York lifestyle, on the back of Scott’s early publishing success, came to epitomise the so-called Jazz Age. By the age of 30, Zelda was already suffering from mental problems from which she suffered for the rest of her life. It was Nancy Milford, in her 1970 biography of Zelda, who first revealed the extent to which Scott plagiarised Zelda’s diaries. When an editor offered to publish Zelda’s diaries, she reveals, Scott vetoed the idea - Zelda apparently offered no resistance to the rather high-handed refusal, ‘and the diaries remained Scott’s literary property rather than hers.’

The youngest of six children Zelda Sayre was born into a prominent Southern family in Montgomery, Alabama, on 24 July 1900. Her father was a justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama, and one of her grandfathers had been a senator. Aged 14, she attended Sidney Lanier High School. An active member of the local youth scene, she was more interested in dancing and boys than education - indeed she developed an extrovert, flamboyant personality. In 1918, she met the future novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was some four years older than herself.
After an intense courtship, Zelda agreed to marry him as soon as his first novel - This Side of Paradise - was published; and she did in spring 1920. They settled in New York, living an extravagant lifestyle, and becoming celebrities, so-called chroniclers of the Jazz Age (Encyclopaedia Britannica). The following year, when she fell pregnant, they moved to Scott’s home in St. Paul, Minnesota. Their only child, Frances, was born in 1921. Zelda began contributing articles and short stories to magazines, and helping her husband with a play, but they were running up large debts.
In 1924, the couple relocated to Antibes on France’s south coast, and Scott set about completing what would be published as The Great Gatsby. Through the second half of the 1920s, the marriage became more strained, and Zelda had an affair with a French pilot. Around 1927, she became re-obsessed with ballet, taking up a gruelling routine of exercise, and eventually being invited to join an opera ballet company in Naples. However, she declined the offer, and subsequently had a breakdown spending time in Swiss sanatoriums. In late 1931, the couple returned to Montgomery, Alabama, where her judge father was dying. Scott left for Hollywood, and Zelda was admitted to Phipps Psychiatric Clinic in Baltimore. This is where she wrote her only novel, Save Me the Waltz, a largely autobiographical version of her troubled marriage. It did not sell well, and she turned to painting.

Scott published Tender Is the Night in 1934, nearly 10 years after finishing his last novel, but by this time, the couple were greatly in debt. Scott was struggling with alcoholism, and Zelda was in and out of health clinics. In 1940, Scott died of a heart attack, and in 1948 Zelda died in a fire (one of nine) at Highland Hospital. Further information is readily available online at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Society, Wikipedia, and Biography.com.

Some 20 years after her death Nancy Milford’s biography - Zelda - was published by Harper & Row (1970) - this can be read online here. Milford portrayed her as a symbol of thwarted artistry, constantly  frustrated in her attempts to establish herself as an artist in her own right, and thus exemplifying the struggle women faced more generally in finding outlets and acceptance for their creativity. In particular, Milford uncovered a theme, through the first half of Zelda’s life with Scott, concerning the way he regularly plagiarised Zelda’s diaries for his own novels, treating her writing as if he owned it. There’s no trace today of Zelda’s diaries, other than in extracts from Scott’s novels. But here is some of what Milford had to say about the diaries.

‘Soon they were alone together whenever he could borrow a car; they drank gin and kissed in the back rows of the Grand Theatre during the vaudeville shows; and Zelda showed him a diary she kept which Scott found so extraordinary that he was to use portions of it in his fiction, in This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and Damned, and The Jelly Bean.’

‘The only other written record that Zelda had kept up to this point in her life was her diary. And that apparently was lost or destroyed a long time ago. Scott had taken it with him to New York and showed it to at least one friend of his that spring, who said that it was “a very human document, but somehow I cannot altogether understand it.” ’

‘George Jean Nathan, who with Mencken edited The Smart Set, which had first published Scott, began to visit them frequently during the summer. An urbane and witty bachelor, Nathan quickly took to Zelda and began a flirtation that consisted of teasing Scott and writing gay notes to Zelda facetiously signed “Yours, for the Empire, A Prisoner of Zelda.” [. . .]

During one of his weekends in Westport he had discovered her diaries. “They interested me so greatly that in my capacity as a magazine editor I later made her an offer for them. When I informed her husband, he said that he could not permit me to publish them since he had gained a lot of inspiration from them and wanted to use parts of them in his own novels and short stories, as for example The Jelly Bean.’ Zelda apparently offered no resistance to this rather high-handed refusal of Nathan’s offer, and the diaries remained Scott’s literary property rather than hers.’

‘While the Fitzgeralds were in New York at the Plaza, Burton Rascoe wrote to Zelda asking her to review The Beautiful and Damned. He had just begun a book department for the New York Tribune and wanted to include pieces that would add sparkle to his new venture. “I think if you could view it, or pretend to view it, objectively and get in a rub here and there it would cause a great deal of comment.” It would also help the sales of the book, he thought. Zelda accepted his challenge and wrote the review under her maiden name. It was her first published piece since high school.

The tone of the review was self-conscious as Zelda indulged in light mockery: she asked the reader to buy Scott’s book for a number of “aesthetic” reasons, which included her own desire for a dress in cloth of gold and a platinum ring. She humorously evoked a vision of herself as the author’s greedy and self-centered wife, and she saw the book as a manual of contemporary etiquette, an indispensable guide to interior decorating -and in Gloria’s adventures an example of how not to behave. About Anthony she said nothing at all; it was Gloria who dominated her attention. Zelda did not try to conceal the parallels between Gloria and herself:

It also seems to me that on one page I recognized a portion of an old diary of mine which mysteriously disappeared shortly after my marriage, and also scraps of letters, which, though considerably edited, sound to me vaguely familiar. In fact, Mr. Fitzgerald - I believe that is how he spells his name - seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home.

We cannot know to what extent Scott used Zelda’s diary but we have her word for it (as well as George Jean Nathan’s) that he did. One such portion from the novel, called “The Diary,” reads:

April 24th—I want to marry Anthony, because husbands are so often “husbands” and I must marry a lover…

What grubworms women are to crawl on their bellies through colorless marriages! Marriage was created not to be a background but to need one. Mine is going to be outstanding. It can’t, shan’t be the setting - it’s going to be the performance, the live, lovely, glamorous performance, and the world shall be the scenery. I refuse to dedicate my life to posterity. Surely one owes as much to the current generation as to one’s unwanted children. What a fate - to grow rotund and unseemly, to lose my self-love.…

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

A real companion and friend

It’s 70 years to the day since William Lyon Mackenzie King died. He was one of the leading Canadian politicians of the 20th century, having been prime minister for over 20 years. He was also a very committed diarist, writing, or dictating, detailed entries for most of his life up until a couple of days before his death. All of King’s prolific diary output is freely available online thanks to Library and Archives Canada.

King was born in Berlin (later renamed Kitchener), Ontario, in 1874. His maternal grandfather, William Lyon Mackenzie, led the 1837 Rebellion in Upper Canada. King studied at the University of Toronto, the University of Chicago and at Harvard before entering the civil service. He joined the Liberal Party and won a seat in the 1908 election. The following year, he was appointed Minister of Labour in Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s Cabinet. After losing his seat in 1911, he worked as a consultant for a while before, in 1919, being elected leader of his party.

Two years later, in 1921, the Liberals won a general election, and then won again in 1925 and 1926, before losing power in 1930. However, King was re-elected in 1935 and led Canada through the Second World War, benefitting from strong relationships with both Roosevelt and Churchill. He died less than two years after retiring,  on 22 July 1950. Much more biographical information is available online, at Library and Archives Canada, Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, and, of course, Wikipedia.

Although King was a prolific correspondent and the author of numerous books and articles, by far his most important literary project - according to Library and Archives Canada - was the ongoing, daily writing of his diary, which began in 1893, while he was an undergraduate, and ended in 1950, a few days before his death. Taken together, the diary texts comprise nearly 30,000 pages (more than seven million words) and arguably represents one of Canada’s greatest literary achievements.

King explained his original purpose in writing a diary in the very first entry (6 September 1893): ‘This diary is to contain a very brief sketch of the events, actions, feelings, and thoughts of my daily life. It must above all be a true and faithful account. The chief object of my keeping this diary is that I may be ashamed to let even one day have nothing worthy of its showing, and it is hoped that through its pages the reader may be able to trace how the author has sought to improve his time. Another object must here be mentioned and is this, the writer hopes that in future days - be they far or near - he may find great pleasure both for himself and friends in the remembrance of events recorded, surrounded as they must be, by many an unwritten association. If either aim is reached this present diary will not have been in vain.’

According to an online exhibition hosted by Library and Archives Canada, by 1902 King’s diary had taken an additional role in his life - ‘as a confidant, a friend with whom he could share his innermost thoughts and feelings’. Shortly after the death of a friend he wrote, ‘I am taking up this diary again as a means of keeping me true to my true purpose . . . it has helped to clear me in my thought and convictions, and it has been a real companion and friend.’ King also used the diary to give himself advice (to do better, to work harder), and to berate himself (for gaining weight, for example, or wasting time at parties). Furthermore, for King, the writing of the diary was a duty, an exercise in self-discipline. In the early years, it was common for him to put aside the diary for several days or even months, but in later years it was very rare that he missed a day. He felt remorse whenever he failed to keep it up.

All of King’s diaries are online at Library and Archives Canada! Here are a couple of extracts - two connected with Shirley Temple (for no other reason than that they go with a fine out-of-copyright photograph of the two of them taken on the same day as the second extract), and the third is the very last diary entry King made a few days before he died.

17 August 1937
‘. . . The Coronation pictures were followed by Shirley Temple in Wee Willie Winkle - what I saw of the child rather annoyed than pleased me, a precociousness & forwardness, etc. however, as the play went on she ‘improved’ - there were bits that were quite lovely - a fine little actress, - but one feels it is a mistake so to raise children. . .’

21 October 1944
‘Arrived at the Parliament Buildings at noon had a really interesting afternoon as a consequence. In the Railway Committee room met Shirley Temple, her mother and father, and some of the repatriated boys. . . I was greatly attracted by Shirley Temple - a young girl of great charm, very pretty, very natural; I liked her father and mother, both of whom were quiet, pleasant people. . . I have seldom found anyone more natural than Shirley Temple was, or quicker to adapt herself to every situation. We walked out together to the platform facing Parliament Hill and I sat to her right, and St Laurent to her left. It was quite interesting to watch her methods to rouse the boys to cheer. Very self-possessed, full of joyous freedom and expression in every way. . .

After the proceedings we had a very exciting time. I walked with her to the car, allowed her father and mother to get in, and sat on a small seat myself. We were not more than started when crowds gathered in front of the car and on all sides. It was such that it was impossible for us to move. This kept up all the way to the hotel. Police arrangements not good. . . I expected to find it easy once in the hotel, but there the situation was worse than ever. There was no police, except a big man, who had gone in first and another who joined in later. The Chateau was crowded with children. Young people squeezed in around us. Shirley’s father and I tried to protect her but Mrs Temple got lost in the crowd to one side. To my amazement we had to crash through all the way, to one of elevator doors, leaving Mrs Temple behind. . .

When we came up together everyone was pretty well fatigued. I found my heart beating very fast, and finding it difficult to get my breath. I had not realised how considerable the strain had been. I was really fearful at one stage that the little girl would be crushed. Certainly, if anyone had slipped there would have been a terrible situation. It was quite shocking, having no police, and to have to have let the crowds indoors. I literally had to carry her along from the front door through the gathering to the elevator.’

19 July 1950
‘Last night was a very unfortunate night. I went soundly to sleep almost at once, but wakened because of conditions in the room, too cold, etc. Got nurse to arrange things. Took usual morphine injection about one. Found the room very cold around five past five. The nurse had left the window open, and the temperature had changed. I called to her many times. Put on the light, etc. and finally had to go to her room to come to straighten things in my room. She was saying over and over again that she was sorry. As far as I could see, she was enjoying a meal on her bed, when I looked into the room, she also said she had been writing. It was very disappointing as it was from that time that I found my breathing heavy, and had a broken night’s sleep instead of one of the best I should have had. John brought tea at seven, but again my sleep was broken until ten. I could not get properly rested. At one stage he came to change my gowns . . . I had a new drug this morning . . . Got through a little dictation with Lafleur both before and after luncheon. I really should have gone into the sun at three, but was very tired, and feeling weary, went to bed instead. Evidently this was wise as I slept very soundly until quarter to seven - almost three hours. . . I regret having missed the out-of-doors for a walk through the day. When it came to getting up for dinner, found myself alone to give me clothing part of which had been taken away. Lafleur came to the rescure. I got what was needed and later signed letters. Then, went downstairs for dinner, at quarter to eight, dictating diary to date. Very very sorry to have kept Lafleur all that time.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 22 July 2010.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Pen & Sword diaries

A newly published diary from Pen & Sword Books tells the story of Anthony Barne, a young soldier who started the Second World War as a captain in the Royal Dragoons and ended it as a confidant of Winston Churchill and a commanding officer of the 4th Hussars. According to the publisher, the diary is witty, outrageous but also poignant and philosophical. First World War diaries from Pen & Sword Books include Herbert Suzbach’s With the German Guns and Mabel Goode’s The Lengthening War.
Barne was born in 1906 at the family home, Sotterley Hall, one of four children. Aged 13, he had hoped to join the Navy but instead studied at Marlborough College before joining the army. He thrived at Sandhurst, excelling in horsemanship. On leaving, he joined the Royal Dragoons, a cavalry regiment, which departed for Egypt in 1927 then relocated to India for several years. There, at a polo match, he met Cara Holmes-Hunt who came from Melbourne and was spending a ‘season’ in India. The regiment was finally returning to England when, with the Italians mobilising in Africa, it was suddenly ordered to Egypt again. 
Barne, on leave, married Cara in England in 1937, and she joined him in Cairo, until moving to Rhodesia during the war years. Barne had an active war, being present at the battle of El Alamein, and eventually joining Churchill’s regiment, the 4th Hussars. During his two periods of command, the Royal Dragoons won two battle honours, and the 4th Hussars won eight. He was awarded the OBE. He remained in the army until 1953, stationed at various bases around England. His final posting was in Dorset, and this led him to buy a farm in the county at Culeaze, where he lived happily with Cara and their one son, Christopher. Barne died in 1996  
Charles Barne - Christopher’s son and Anthony Barne’s grandson - found his grandfathers diaries when clearing out their house. He transcribed and edited them for publication, in 2019, by Pen & Sword Books as Churchill’s Colonel: The War Diaries of Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Barne. Some pages may be previewed at Amazon
From the publisher’s blurb: ‘He wrote an entry for every day of the war, often with great difficulty, sometimes when dog-tired or under fire, and sometimes when things looked black and desperate, but more often in sunshine and optimism, surrounded by good fellows who kept one cheerful and helped one through the sad and difficult times. His diary ends in July 1945, by which time he was commanding officer of the 4th Hussars, having recently visited Downing Street for lunch alone with the Churchills. The diaries have an enormous scope covering time in Palestine and Egypt before he joins the Eighth Army, describing the retreat back to El Alamein, the battle and its aftermath. He ends the campaign commanding his regiment. He often graphically details the physical realities of war: the appalling conditions in the desert, the bombardments of the regiment from the air, the deaths and serious injuries of fellow soldiers. In 1943, he flies down to Rhodesia to see his wife and infant son before returning to Cairo to join Churchill’s regiment, the 4th Hussars. Arriving in Italy in 1944, he recounts the campaign as the Allies push north. The tone of the diaries varies wildly: often witty, sometimes outrageous but also poignant and philosophical. The voice and attitudes are entertainingly dated, but are delivered with warmth, a charming turn of phrase and a keen eye for the absurd.’ Here are two extracts from Barne’s diary.
28 September 1944
‘It rained heavily again in the night giving Kesselring a chance to recover himself. It means our tanks will be bogged down where they stand for several days I fear. I may even find them where I left them when I escape from here.
Jack White appears in the afternoon. He has worms and feels it is a good chance to be cured. It is gratifying to know I’m missing nothing but this vile weather.
Perhaps jaundice is getting me down but I truly believe we are unlikely to get the war finished this autumn and if that is so then it may well drag into next summer. What a dreary prospect. I must review my plans for the future.
8 April 1945
‘A cold, windy morning. I talk to each squadron in turn during the course of the day regarding the forthcoming battle. Each talk takes over an hour and there’s half an hour of driving between three of them. One talk is in a schoolroom, one behind a haystack and others in farmyards out of the wind.
We also have to move RHQ and have two conferences. My bus moves up while I am out so the moment I come in I can sit straight down and get the paperwork dealt with. With no increased staff I am directly working with three divisions and my own tank strength is about that of a brigade. Thank goodness the office staff are most capable, helpful and friendly.’
Among its many other war titles, Pen & Sword Books offers several diaries. Mabel Goode was born in 1872 in Derby to a well-off family, the youngest of three. Her father was a doctor and a mayor of Derby. Her mother died when Mabel was but six months, and her father married Emma in 1874. When her father died in 1879, it was Emma that was left to bring up her step-children, which she did in a suburb of Heidleberg, Germany, The family returned to England in 1887 when Mabel’s elder brother Stuart wanted to join the army. They lived in Kensington, London. The family took on a new servant, Price, who would go on to serve Mabel for forty years (and be one of her closest relationships - since she never married). In 1895, Mabel entered The Slade School of Fine Art. In the mid-1900s, the family moved to York, where Mabel’s other brother, Henry, had bought a practice. After the war, Henry married, and Mabel bought two properties in the Lake District, one where she lived for the rest of her life (with Price), and the other for renting out to provide an income. She spent much time painting (selling her work), and travelled often to Italy in the winter. She died in 1954.
The Lengthening War: The Great War Diaries of Mabel Goode (2016) was compiled by Henry’s great grandson (having found the diary in the bottom of a ‘dusty trunk). Mabel’s actual diary takes up some 70 of the 200 pages, with other chapters providing much historical and biographical context as well as photographs. According to Pen & Sword: ‘The diary shows us how the war came to the Home Front, from enrolment, rationing, the collapse of domestic service and growth of war work, to Zeppelin attacks over Yorkshire, and the ever mounting casualty lists. Above all else, Mabel’s diary captures a growing disillusionment with a lengthening war, as the costs and the sacrifices mount. Starting with great excitement and expecting a short struggle, the entries gradually give way to a more critical tone, and eventually to total disengagement.’ In fact, although there are glimpses of her home life and the people around her, most of the entries, and the bulk of most entries, are reports of news about the war. The book can be previewed at Googlebooks. Here is one example.
6 June 1915
‘The news from the Eastern side of the theatre of war has been very bad this week. Przemysl has been recaptured by the Germans & Austrians & they are pressing on towards Lemberg. This setback of the brave Russians is entirely due to the superior artillery, especially big guns & great supplies of ammunition of the Germans. They fired 200,000 shells in 2 hours! The Russians admit that they will for the present be obliged to act on the defensive until England can supply them with munitions & it is feared that the Germans will move large numbers of their victorious troops from the East to the West & the great guns & try to break through the English & French lines, leaving only sufficient troops to hold the Russians in check. It seems most probable & a serious outlook for us, as our supply of high explosive shells is admittedly insufficient. I fear it will very much prolong the war & cause terrible loss of valuable lives, all alas! our best. Conscription has not been brought in even now, & all the slackers & shirkers are allowed to stay at home. Lloyd George says they have sufficient men at present for the equipment which is ready for them. He has been speaking in Manchester to rouse up masters & men to do their best possible work in making shells & munitions.
Stuart is still at Dovercourt.
I heard from Henry last on Wednesday.’
Finally, Pen & Sword Books has also re-issued With the German Guns: Four years on the western front by Herbert Sulzbach. ‘At once harrowing and light-hearted,’ the publisher says, ‘Sulzbach’s exceptional diary has been highly praised since its original publication in Germany in 1935. With the reprint of this classic account of trench warfare it records the pride and exhilaration of what to him was the fight for a just cause. It is one of the very few available records of an ordinary German soldier during the First World War.’ The edition contains a short memoir of Sulzbach by Terence Prittie, and a note from the translator (Richard Thonger), but no index nor annotations. The book can be previewed at Googlebooks. Here are two extracts
29 December 1914 
‘I am given orders to ride to St Morel with Lance-Sergeant Debler. I take Lance-Sergeant Lauer’s horse and we ride off on the two little Arabs, across fields to Granddeuil. Nothing but mud. Lance-Sergeant Debler had business with the Captain, while I waited outside. We made our way back as night was falling, and it was very hard indeed to find one’s way.
In the evening I was on guard duty.
We receive our first mail in this position - that is, we have to fetch it ourselves from the rear by limber, which is a dreadfully difficult operation, with the vehicle and horses practically sunk in the mud. After these few days we really look like pigs. The fire gets heavier, it’s developing into an artillery battle, what they call a ‘gunners’ duel’.’
21 January 1915
‘I receive another special order, pick one of the little Arab horses and ride to the Battery. It’s 6 a.m., still pitch dark, and you can only just find your way about. From the Battery I get an order to proceed to the Battalion Staff, lying this side of some high ground only 100 metres behind the front trenches. Since this high ground lies in front of the enemy trenches, I can ride towards the front without being seen by the French; but a hellish burst of fire starts up, and small-arms and artillery fire compete with each other in making things hot for me. I’m as hoarse as a crow and can’t speak a word. I get my orders and ride back to the Battery, which is now commanded by Captain Henn, while 2/Lt Reinhardt is what you might call his right-hand man, and acts as a liaison officer with the infantry.’
With thanks to Pen & Sword Books.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The ‘father’ of US naval ordnance

Rear-admiral John A. Dahlgren - sometimes dubbed the ‘father of American naval ordnance’ - died 150 years ago today. He joined the US Navy as young man and rose through the ranks to become a confidante of Abraham Lincoln and a key player in the Civil War. His extensive diaries are considered a rich primary source on the naval and ordnance aspects of the war and on Lincoln.

Dahlgren was born in 1809, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of the Swedish consul in the city. He joined the US Navy in 1826 as a midshipman, but in 1834 went to work on a survey of the US coast line. In 1839, he married Mary Bunker, and they had seven children before her death in 1855. By 1847, Dahlgren had become an ordnance officer, and, serving at the Washington Navy Yard, was intent on improving the procurement and supply system for weapons. There, he established the US Navy’s Ordnance Department; developed equipment (not least the Dahlgren gun); and authored various books, including The System of Boat Armaments in the United States Navy, Shells and Shell Guns, and Naval Percussion Locks and Primers. He also established the Navy’s first foundry to manufacture new equipment - its first product being the boat howitzer, designed for use aboard ship and in landings.

With the onset of the Civil War, Dahlgren was appointed by Abraham Lincoln as Commandant of the Washington Navy Yard, a key post for ordnance and for defence of the city. He worked in close contact with Lincoln and many of his cabinet. He was soon promoted to captain and, in 1863, to rear admiral in command of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. He led a partially successful naval assault on Charleston, and later participated in the final occupation of that city; he commanded an expedition up the St. John’s River in Florida; and he cooperated with Sherman in the capture of Savannah.

After the war, Dahlgren spent some years as commander of the South Pacific Squadron. In 1865, he married his second wife, Sarah Madeleine Vinton, daughter of a Congressman, and they had three children. He, finally, returned to his old positions as Chief of Ordnance and Commandant of the Washington Navy Yard. He died on 12 July 1870. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Syracuse University, Naval History and Heritage and Mr Lincoln’s White House. Also, freely available online, is The Autobiography of Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren published by Naval History and Heritage Command in 2018 (pdf).

Dahlgren kept detailed diaries from his mid-20s until his death. These are held, along with a large archive of his papers, by Syracuse University Libraries. They are described as follows:

The writings of John A. Dahlgren himself, including thirteen volumes of his diaries and one journal, form the bulk of this section. Dahlgren’s diaries, which date from 1834 to 1870, were kept with great regularity and in extensive detail. The volumes from the Civil War years are especially notable as rich sources for information on the war generally, on its naval and ordnance aspects, and on Abraham Lincoln.

In the early years of the war, before his reassignment to the Atlantic Squadron took him away from Washington, Dahlgren was quite close to Lincoln. His diaries note numerous dinners at the White House, outings with Lincoln by carriage or boat, any many meetings and conferences. There are frequent entries recording Lincoln’s opinions of various generals, his interest in modern weaponry, his problems with his cabinet and Congress. Dahlgren also describes Lincoln at ease, taking breakfast in his drawers and telling stories, or cruising up the Potomac and test-firing one of the “Dahlgrens” himself. He often quotes or paraphrases Lincoln.

The diary pages contain mention of many other famous men of the Civil War, including Stanton, Chase, Wells, Sherman, McClellan, Ericsson and others whom Dahlgren knew. Even when he was not personally involved with an individual or an event, Dahlgren often wrote a well-informed account of opinion in these volumes. He wrote extensive discussions of strategy and new developments in weapons and ammunition, and occasionally he wrote about the political and social aspects of the war. In the years preceding and following the Civil War, Dahlgren’s diaries form a record of his naval assignments and ordnance work, as well as of his family and personal life.

Dahlgren's single journal, the daily record of a specific activity stems from his 1829 cruise on the U.S.S. Ontario to the Mediterranean.

Dahlgren’s diaries were used extensively by his widow in compiling Memoir of John A. Dahlgren, Rear-Admiral United States Navy (published by James R Osgood, 1882) - freely available to read online at the Hathi Trust. The book is divided into three parts - The Navy of the Past, Ordnance Record, and The Rebellion - and into 20 chapters. Three of these chapters have titles referring directly to Dahlgren’s ‘Private Journal’ but many of the other chapters are also no more than transcripts of the diaries. Here are several extracts.

3 Feb 1862
‘The public is disquieted with apprehension of British intervention. How stands the game? It is one year since five of the Cotton States seceded from us. The Northern States have an army of 600,000 men in the field. The Navy has been expanded so as to command the Southern seaboard. We hold a point on the coast of North Carolina, one in South Carolina, and one in Florida. In a word, we are just prepared to move, and only wait on the weather. The first weather that freezes the road hard, ought to be the signal. Will it be?

The opportunity for decision seems brief, from two causes, - one financial, the other political. A debt of not less than five hundred millions has been incurred for this preparation, without the first step to provide for it; so the public credit has been used to its full extent, and we are threatened with want of funds.

The other difficulty is from abroad. England cautiously but surely progresses towards intervention. . . Mason and Slidell are demanded by an ultimatum, and now we have threats of 
more direct interference, for which purpose she does not relax in preparation for war. . . It is now evident that the pivot of affairs lay in the period beginning at the time when the attack of Sumter was decided, and the abandonment of Norfolk. The loss of Norfolk was almost fatal; could that have been held, the fate of Virginia might have been otherwise.

The Department had one month to send there a suitable Commandant and officers, which was not done. So the latter deserted and the former was helpless.

How much has it cost, only to ward off the consequences of this mistake! . . .’

5 February 1862
‘The Presidential Reception came off this evening, as appointed. The President and Mrs. Lincoln received in the East Room. The only distinction between this soirée and the usual reception was, that the guests were selected by invitation and there was a supper. It so happened, I was the only Navy officer present. The officers of the Army, below the rank of General of Brigade, with one or two exceptions, were not there. 

All the Foreign Ministers were present.

About midnight the President led the way to the supper-room, which was said to be the most superb thing of the kind that had been seen in Washington. . . While the supper was going on, I fell in with General McClellan. He whispered to me that Fremont was in the room. This is the first occasion I have heard of Fremont’s appearance in such places. The General admired my sword very much; for, being in full uniform, I wore that presented by the Seventy-first. I observed the niece of Mrs. McClellan with General Stone. Four days afterwards General Stone was arrested for treason and sent to Fort Lafayette.

2 April 1862
‘I went down to Mt. Vernon with the President, some members of his family, and others. I advised the President not to land, and remained in the boat with him. General McClellan went down yesterday. Troops still going. Must be nearly 100,000 men at Old Point.’

5 April 1862
‘Great events are at the threshold. The army has begun to move from Fort Monroe, more than 100,000 men, with McClellan at the head, thus changing the first view, for McDowell was to operate here with some 50,000 men. Now he is left behind, and the Chief goes in command, converting the subordinate into the main movement. So it is Richmond, now or never.

Again the “Merrimac” is supposed to be refitted, and her movements will be watched with much solicitude.

In the West the principal armies are about to fight a battle which will decide the fate of Memphis and much else. . .’

24 February 1864
‘In came the “Harvest Moon,” a sea packet, new and just bought, side wheels, and very like the “Philadelphia,” save that she could go to sea. I will go North in her. . . I have news that our troops have been regularly trapped on the march inland from Jacksonville, and lost 1,200 men in battle, besides being beaten.’

25 February 1804
‘Moving from the “Philadelphia” to “Harvest Moon.” I sent for Rowan; Rowan came. He asked “If they blew up a monitor, what he should do?” I answer, “Do not let them, and take care of the rest.” “Well, but shall I go outside?” “ Follow your judgment, and inform me immediately.” We crossed the bar at eleven. . . Got to Port Royal after sunset.’

26 February 1804
‘I went to see General Gillmore. Had a long talk. He said he only landed 3,000 men on the day we entered upon Morris Island. The most he had at any time was 10,000, but then thirty-seven per cent were sick and not fit for service. One day, on collecting all his force, he had 6,300 out of the 10,000. He also thought that Johnson was complete at the landing, but the batteries between it and Seceshville, Simpkins, Hascall, and Cheves, were put up after the landing. Said he gave up the steamer “Mary’s,” as I had the law of him. Spoke of the defeat in Florida, 700 killed, &c, and several hundred slightly wounded. He said Seymour had gone beyond his instructions. Said he had dismissed one correspondent of ____ for lying, who in excuse said he had to do so, and now another had been guilty of slandering. . .  Showed me the drawings and model of Wagner and its approaches. Spoke of his idea of engineering across James Island. I told him I was called home for a few days by the Department. Said he would come to see me this evening. Gillmore is an engineer, but no general. About eight, Gillmore came off with Colonel Fuller, the new Quartermaster. He said I might repeat to the authorities what he said.’

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Arctic Sea adventure

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, famous around the world for his fictional creation Sherlock Holmes, died 90 years ago today. As a young man, still studying medicine, he sailed for six months in the Arctic seas on a whaling ship - and kept a detailed dairy. The experience would later enrich several of his stories, not least The Adventure of Black Peter in which Holmes solves a murder committed by harpoon. A full facsimile copy of the diary, complete with illustrations, has been published by The British Library.

Doyle was born in 1859 in Edinburgh into a prosperous Irish family. His father was an artist and a chronic alcoholic, while his mother had a passion for books and storytelling. Aged nine, he was sent to a Catholic boarding school at Stonyhurst, Lancashire, where he remained for seven years. Later he would write about the place as being run on medieval principles, favouring the threat of corporal punishment and ritual humiliation over providing compassion and warmth. On leaving school, it seems, he added one of his given names - Conan - to his surname Doyle. 

In 1875, Conan Doyle was sent for a year to a Jesuit school in Austria partly to improve his German. From 1876, he studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh but also botany at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. He started writing short stories during this period, his first  - The Mystery of Sasassa Valley - being published in 1879. The same year he also published a first academic article, Gelsemium as a Poison, in the British Medical Journal. In 1880, Conan Doyle sailed with the whaler SS Hope in the Arctic seas for six months, acting as ship’s surgeon. And, after graduating, he sailed to the West African coast with the SS Mayumba.

In the early 1880s, Conan Doyle tried to set up a medical practice with a colleague in Plymouth, but it failed, and then he launched another in Southsea on his own but this no more successful. He completed his Doctor of Medicine in 1885, and subsequently took up studying and practising ophthalmology - but again failed to attract clients. By then, though, he had published his first story feating Sherlock Holmes - A Study in Scarlet - and its success encouraged him to write further stories. In 1893, tired of his hero, Conan Doyle killed off Holmes, hoping to concentrate on more serious writing, but a public outcry led to Holmes’ resurrection. Conan Doyle wrote various other books: fiction such as The Lost World, and non-fiction such as The Great Boer War (justifying British involvement). He was a keen sportsmen taking part, at various times, in amateur football, cricket, boxing, golf and billiards. In 1885, he married Louisa Hawkins, and they had two children. She died young, and Holmes then married Jean Elizabeth Leckie with whom he had three further children.

Conan Doyle ran twice unsuccessfully for parliament. In-between attempts, he was knighted by King Edward VII in the 1902 Coronation Honours. He was a fervent advocate of justice, and personally investigated two cases which led to convicted men being released. It was partially as a result of one of these cases that the Court of Criminal Appeal was established in 1907. He was also involved in the campaign to reform the Congo Free State, and, unsuccessfully, tried to save Roger Casement from the death penalty (see Casement’s black reputation). In later life, after the death of his beloved mother, he became very interested in spiritualism, and was friends with the US magician Harry Houdini, believing he had supernatural powers. Conan Doyle died on 7 July 1930. Further information is available from the official Arthur Conan Doyle website, Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, or the Baker Street fanzine.

For half a year or so, while on his voyage through the Arctic seas, Conan Doyle kept a daily diary. He retained it throughout his life, and it was eventually passed down through his heirs until, in 2004, it came up for sale (with sundry other items) at Christie’s in London. The journal, with neat handwriting and many illustrations, was described as consisting of more than 150 pages in two notebooks bound in marbled boards. Although the diary was not sold at the time, the Conan Doyle Estate has, since, allowed it to be published. In 2012, both the British Library in the UK and University of Chicago Press in the US brought out a full colour facsimile of the contents: Dangerous Work: Diary of an Arctic Adventure, as edited by Jon Lellenberg and Daniel Stashower. The book also includes a complete and annotated transcript of the diary and several non-fiction and fiction pieces based on Conan Doyle’s experiences during the voyage (including a Sherlock Holmes story, The Adventure of Black Peter; and a ghost story set in the Arctic, The Captain of the Polestar).

The publisher says: ‘With humour and grace, Conan Doyle provides a vivid account of a long-vanished way of life at sea. His careful detailing of the ‘murderous harvest’ in the Arctic seas affords a rare and unflinching account of the latter days of the British whaling industry.’ And Lellenberg adds: ‘In this diary’s entries, we see the young medical student step outside the classroom into settings of high adventure and great peril, finding his way among hard men whose skill and daring he came to respect greatly, and at the end of the voyage encountering a direct link to the first tale about Sherlock Holmes that he would write six years later.’ Reviews with extracts can be found at NPR and The Best of Sherlock Holmes. Here are several of those extracts.

4 April 1880
‘I fell into the Arctic Ocean three times today, but luckily someone was always near to pull me out. The danger in falling in is that with a heavy swell on as there is now, you may be cut in two pretty well by two pieces of ice coming together and ripping you. I got several drags but was laid up in the evening as all my clothes were in the engine room drying. By the way as an instance of abstraction of mind after skinning a seal today I walked away with the two hind flippers in my hand, leaving my mittens on the ice. Some of our hands work very well, while others, mostly Shetlanders with many honourable exceptions, shirk their work detestably. It shows what a man is made of, this work, as we are often far from the ship away from the Captain’s eye with a couple of miles drag, and a man can skulk if he will. Colin the mate is a great power in the land, energetic & hard working. I heard him tell a man today he would club him if he didn’t work harder. I saw the beggars often walk pat a fine fat seal to kill a poor little “Toby” or newly pupped one in order to have less weight to drag. The Captain sits at the masthead all day, looking out with his glass, for where they lie thickest.’

12 April 1880
‘Buried poor old Andrew this morning. Union Jack was hoisted half mast high. He was tied up in canvas sack with a bag of old iron tied to his feet, and the Church of England burial service was read over him. Then the stretcher on which he was lying was tilted over and the old man went down feet foremost with hardly a splash. There was a bubble or two and a gurgle and that was the end of old Andrew. He knows the great secret now. I should think he would be flattened out of all semblance to humanity before he reached the bottom, or rather he would never reach the bottom but hang suspended half way down like Mahomet’s coffin, when the weight of the iron was neutralized. The Captain & I agree that on these occasions three cheers should be given as the coffin disappears, not in levity, but as a genial hearty fare-thee-well wherever you are.’

26 June 1880
‘Nothing had been seen all day and I had gone down to the cabin about 10 o’clock when I heard a sort of bustle on deck. Then I heard the Captain’s voice from the masthead “Lower away the two waist boats!” I rushed into the mates’ berth and gave the alarm, Colin was dressed but the second mate rushed on deck in his shirt with his trousers in his hand. When I got my head above the hatchway the very first thing I saw was the whale shooting its head out of the water and gamboling about at the other side of a large ‘sconce’piece of ice. It was a beautiful night, with hardly a ripple on the deep green water. In jumped the crews into their boats, and the officers of the watch looked that their guns were primed and ready, then they pushed off and the two long whale boats went crawling away on their wooden legs one to one side of the bit of ice, the other to the other. Carner had hardly got up to the ice when the whale came up again about forty yards in front of the boat, throwing almost its whole body out of the water, and making the foam fly. There was a chorus of “Now, Adam - Now’s your chance!” from the line of eager watchers on the vessel‘s side. But Adam Carner, a grizzled and weatherbeaten harpooner knows better. The whale’s small eye is turned towards him and the boat lies as motionless as the ice behind it. But now it has shifted, its tail is towards them - Pull, boys, pull! Out shoots the boat from the ice - will the fish dive before he can get up to it? That is the question in every mind. He is nearing it, and it still lies motionless - nearer yet and nearer. Now he is standing up to his gun and has dropped his oar - “Three strokes, boys”! he says as he turns his quid in his cheek, and then there is a bang and a foaming of waters and a shouting, and then up goes the little red flag in Carner’s boat and the whale line runs out merrily.’

4 August 1880
‘Was called up about 11 PM by the Captain to see a marvellous sight. Never hope to see anything like it again. The sea was simply alive with great hunchback whales, rather a rare variety, you could have thrown a biscuit onto 200 of them, and as far as you could see there was nothing but spoutings and great tails in the air. Some were blowing under the bowsprit, sending the water on to the forecastle, and exciting our newfoundland tremendously. They are 60-80 feet long, and have extraordinary heads with a hanging pouch like a toad’s from sheer underjaw. They yield about 3 tons of very inferior oil, and are hard to capture so that they are not worth pursuing. We lowered away a boat and fired an old loose harpoon into one which went away with a great splash. They differ from finner whales in having white underfins and tail. Some of them gave a peculiar whistle when they blew, which you could hear a couple of miles off.’

10 August 1880
‘Up at 8 AM to see the land bearing WSW on the Starboard bow. Half a gale blowing and the old Hope steaming away into a head sea like Billy. The green grass on shore looks very cool and refreshing to me after nearly 6 months never seeing it, but the houses look revolting. I hate the vulgar hum of men and would like to be back at the floes again.

Passed the skerry light, and came down to Lerwick but did not get into the harbour as we are in a hurry to catch the tide at Peterhead, so there goes all my letters, papers and everything else. A girl was seen at the lighthouse waving a handkerchief and all hands were called to look at her. The first woman we have seen for half a year.’

Postscript. In 2014, Christie’s did sell a manuscript journal kept by Conan Doyle. It was listed as ’Baby’s Book - 1909–1916’ with 48 pages, 32 of them blank, and sold for $7,500. Here is how Christie’s described its content: A loving journal of the birth and early growth of three of Conan Doyle’s five children, Denis Percy Stewart (17 March 1909 – 9 March 1955), Adrian Malcolm (19 November 1910 – 3 June 1970). And Jean Lena Annette (1912-1997). We see not just the doting parent, but the novelist's eye for the telling hints of character and the story-teller's pleasure in amusing anecdotes. Most of the journal is devoted to Denis: “Baby was born March 17th about 6 p.m.,” it begins. “St. Patrick’s Day 1909. He was christened Denis Stewart Percy Conan Doyle. April 17th... Began to crow a little – googa noises – when about one month old.... Aug. 3. In splendid form. Developed a very rouguish laugh. More alert.” Two years later Doyle notes that baby Denis “showed some curious characteristics.” When he’s “had enough of anyone or anything he always said Ta Ta. ‘Ta Ta, man!’ To the doctor…and so on.... He is a remarkable mimic, taking off the exact note & tone. He should have a very clear ear for music.” Another child now makes an appearance in the journal: “Little Adrian (3 months old) weighs 10 lbs 6 ounces which is just the same as Denis at the same age.” The interaction between Denis, Adrian and Doyle’s youngest, Jean Lena Annette (referred to only as Baby in the journal) make for some amusing entries: “His mother having reproached Denis by saying that Adrian & Baby took their medicine well, he said ‘Brave souls!’” Denis’s wit comes through in this “Story of Dennis [ca. 1916]. He pretended all day to be the German Emperor. On being told that I would be angry he said, ‘Who is he? A common Doyle!’” 

In an entry form about 1916, Doyle records that “Adrian asked if God was listening to his conversation. On being told that he was he said, ‘Well, it’s very rude of him.’ Baby who had quarreled with Adrian but who had to include him in [her] prayers said, ‘God bless horrid Adrian.’” Another theological query (from which child is unclear) closes the journal: “‘Would Christ play cricket.’ ‘Yes, if it would give pleasure.’ ‘I wonder if he could bowl Googlies.’”

Saturday, July 4, 2020

The ‘canali’ of Mars

Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli, the Italian astronomer, died one hundred and ten years ago today. He is particularly remembered for his observations and descriptions of the planet Mars, as well as for his studies of ancient astronomy. He kept diaries, mostly scientific, for some of his working life, often illustrating them, and, although not published, they have been used as a primary source for some astronomy history papers.

Schiaparelli was born in Savigliano, northern Italy, in 1835. He graduated in engineering from the University of Turin in 1854, and, with the help of influential friends, went on to study and research astronomy at Berlin Observatory under Johann Franz Encke, and at Pulkovo Observatory near St Petersburg. Returning to Italy in 1860, he was appointed second astronomer at the Brera Astronomical Observatory, in Milan, becoming its director in 1862, and remaining so for the best part of 40 years. He married Maria Comotti in 1865, and together they parented five children. His first discovery at Brera
, in 1861, was the asteroid Hesperia. This was followed in 1886 by the discovery of a connection between the orbits of comets and meteors (for which he was awarded he Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1872).

In 1875, with a new refractor telescope, Schiaparelli began measurements of double stars, and then, from 1877, during the Mars opposition that year (when Mars is closest to Earth), he launched a long and ultimately important series of observations of the planet over a 20 year period (benefiting from a new telescope and rebuilt dome in 1885). His work was published in several papers by Reale Accademia dei Lincei (of which he was a member) together amounting to the then most detailed monograph on the physical appearance of Mars. In 1893, he published his main work on the subject, La vita sul pianeta Marte (Life on Mars). Interestingly, when he first described (and illustrated - see photo of stamp) a dense network of linear structures that he had found on the surface of the planet, he called them ‘canali’ or channels, but the word was mis-translated in English as ‘canals’ - i.e. artificial constructions. The mistake led to a wave of popular theories about potential life on Mars which carried on through the first half of the 20th century.

Schiaparelli was also a senator of the Kingdom of Italy. After his retirement, he studied the astronomy of the ancient Hebrews and Babylonians and wrote L’astronomia nell’antico testamento, 1903 (Astronomy in the Old Testament). He died on 4 July 1910. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Osservatorio Astronimoco di Brera, Encyclopaedia Britannica, a biography in the Journal of the British Astronomical Association (available at Astrophysics Data System), or David Darling’s website.

There is not much information in English about Schiaparelli’s diaries online, other than a 2011 paper on The Diary of Schiaparelli in Berlin (26 October 1857-10 May 1859): a guide for future scientific activity by P. Tucci. This can be found online at the Journal of the Italian Astronomical Society. According to Tucci, ‘the diary is very important for the reconstruction of Schiaparelli’s training as an astronomer.’ He goes on: ‘The Diary is written in a nice calligraphy, especially the section on the lectures of the winter semester 1857-’58. The Diary contains a wealth of relevant information on the training of the young scientist and the emergence of the wide spectrum of interests. The first part is basically focused on a detailed account of the first semester of the academic year 1857-’58. Almost every lesson is told with great details and the writing is probably a transcript of notes taken during the lesson. Over the months, however, more space is gradually won over by the tale of personal stories and unfolding of episodes of common everyday life, all at the expense of the University lectures.’ Tucci’s paper focuses on astronomy rather than the ‘personal stories’.

Here is an extract from Tucci’s analysis of Schiaparelli’s diary: ‘With the beginning of 1858. Giovanni Virginio began to attend the Berlin Observatory, headed by Encke. It’s firstly quoted in Friday. January 8. when he claims: “I went to the Observatory to find Encke, and gave him the reduction of the observations made on last 8 September of which he was very happy”. After being in the library, Giovanni Virginio came back again to the Observatory, where he was able to observe “. . . quite well at the meridian passage of the Sun”; he also took the opportunity “. . . to see in a very clear way how the Sun is able to change the shape of the instruments.” Also Sunday, 17 Giovanni Virginio “. . . went to the Observatory, first to observe the Sun at noon, then in the evening, where in spite of fresh air I gathered a harvest of at least 24 passages. It’s strange that the Observatory was empty, and no one observed except me. Is this a work of slaves?” ’

Another 2011 paper on Schiaparelli and his legacy, by A. Manara and G. Trinchieri, includes several images (illustrations and texts) from the diaries - as shown here. The manuscript diaries are held in the archives at the Brera Observatory.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Desperately serious living

‘I am giving the girlhood which I remember, the dominant feelings, the most earnest efforts. As I look over the diaries of the time, the first one is for 1876, the records are trivial enough, hardly anything is shown of the desperately serious “living” which was going on.’ This is from the youthful diary of Charlotte Perkins Gilman - an American writer, lecturer on social reform and early feminist - who was born 160 years ago today. Her diaries were published in two volumes in the mid-1990s; in 2010 the Radcliffe Institute (Harvard University) made all the original diary manuscripts freely available online.

Gilman was born on 3 July 1860, in Hartford, Connecticut. She had one older brother, but her father (a relative of the influential Beecher family, including the writer Harriet Beecher Stowe) left when she was still an infant, and her childhood was spent in poverty, with little formal education. Later in her youth, however, she attended the Rhode Island School of Design (with financial help from her father). Subsequently she supported herself by designing trade cards, and through tutoring. In 1884 she married Charles W. Stetson, an artist, and they had one daughter. Family life, though, did not suit her. In 1888, she moved to Pasadena, and by 1894 she had divorced her husband. When he remarried, she sent their daughter to live with him.

Gilman began writing poems and short stories. One story in particular - The Yellow Wall-Paper published in The New England Magazine in 1892 - brought her much attention (and has remained highly popular, being the all-time best selling book of the Feminist Press). She moved to San Francisco, where she edited Impress with Helen Campbell (published by the Pacific Coast Woman’s Press Association).

During the early 1890s, Gilman earned a reputation as a noted lecturer, on topics such as labour, ethics, and women’s place in society, and by the second half of the decade was spending much time on national lecture tours. In 1896, she was a delegate to the International Socialist and Labor Congress in London, where she met George Bernard Shaw, the Webbs, and other leading socialists. Two years later, she published Women and Economics, a radical manifesto arguing for the economic independence of women - this brought her international renown. In 1900 she married a cousin, George Houghton Gilman, with whom she lived in New York City. Further books followed: Concerning Children (1900), The Home (1903), Human Work (1904) and The Man-Made World (1911) in which she attributed the ills of the world to the dominance of men.

From 1909 to 1916, Gilman published the monthly Forerunner, a magazine of feminist articles, views, and fiction. She co-founded, with Jane Addams, the Woman’s Peace Party in 1915. In 1922, she moved from New York to Houghton’s old homestead in Norwich, Connecticut. Following Houghton’s sudden death in 1934, she moved back to Pasadena, where her daughter lived. She was already suffering from cancer by then, and as an advocate of euthanasia, she committed suicide in August 1935. Further information can be found online at Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, or the Radcliffe Institute.

Gilman’s paper are held by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, and all of them have been scanned and made available online as part of the Charlotte Perkins Gilman Digital Collection. Under ‘Diaries’ for example, the collection lists 6501 items. They seem to come from about 70 manuscript volumes - although a few of the scanned calendar pages are empty. The first volume - dated 1883-1918 - is called ‘Thoughts and figgerings’; the last volume (72) dates to 1935. Transcriptions of the digital images are not available on the website, however, the University Press of Virginia published two volumes of The Diaries of Charlotte Perkins Gilman back in 1994 (as edited by Denise D. Knight); and a one-volume abridged edition came out in 1998. (Unfortunately, without my usual library sources available, I have been unable to access these volumes.)

Nevertheless, a few examples from Gilman’s diaries can be found in various biographical works. In her own work - The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman: An Autobiography (which can be previewed at Googlebooks or borrowed briefly from Internet Archive) - there are references to her diary sprinkled throughout. Here are three.

‘I am giving the girlhood which I remember, the dominant feelings, the most earnest efforts. As I look over the diaries of the time, the first one is for 1876, the records are trivial enough, hardly anything is shown of the desperately serious “living” which was going on. It was my definite aim that there should be nothing in my diary which might not be read by any one; I find in these faintly scribbled pages most superficial accounts of small current events, an unbaked girlishness of no special promise.

Very occasionally some indication of the inner difference appears, as once while seventeen: “Am going to try hard this winter to see if I cannot enjoy myself like other people.” This shows the growing stoicism which was partly forced on me by repeated deprivations, then consciously acquired. The local life in which we moved seemed to me petty in the extreme. The small routine of our housekeeping, the goings and comings of friends and relatives, and the rare opportunities for small entertainment, have left almost no impression.

What I do remember, indelibly, is the cumulative effort toward a stronger, nobler character. At the end of the eighteen-year-old diary is written: “Goodby old Year! It has been one of much progress and considerable improvement. My greatest fault now is inordinate egotism.” A persistent characteristic, this.’


‘All those early lectures are written. I have them yet, a goodly number of them, for the two or three years before I took to notes, and then embarked on the purely extemporaneous. Opening the larger and fuller diary of 1891 I find on Jan. 3rd, Sat. “Begin lecture on Nationalism and Religion,” 4th, “Write 24 double pages on Nationalism and Religion.” Deliver same in afternoon. Mrs. Carr there, Dr. Channing and Miss Knight. Very successful. Got $4.30 - Mrs. Carr put in a whole dollar! Awfully tired with the day’s work.”

On the twenty-first was another good one, of which I made entry: “It was a great success. Some of the women cried, and they actually clapped at times! Then an attempt at organizing, lots of enthusiasm and introductions without number. Also an engagement there for next Wednesday fortnight, and one in Rosedale to be arranged. Also $6.20 in cash! That is worth while. And money more fairly earned I never saw - free gift for well appreciated honest work. It does me good.” ’


‘I left Chicago by train, then by boat from Toronto down the St Lawrence, through the Thousand Islands and the rapids, to Montreal, and sailed July 10th, on S.S. Mongolian, Allen Line, for $50.00. Before leaving Chicago my diary remarks, “Feel calm and happy. Cash low however, down to $10.00 in envelope. $20.00 in purse. Never mind.” And I didn’t.

The steamer was a “whaleback” cattle-boat, one “class,” pleasant people enough. Our bovine passengers grew steadily more perceptible as days passed, until the dining-room port-holes had to be closed, to keep them out, as it were.

“Get to the foremost prow and the rearmost stern and am happy,” says the diary. There is no such chance to be alone with the sea on the big liner. “Sit about contentedly with books, papers and writing things.” “Icebergs! Yes, lots of them. Just like the pictures and descriptions.” “Pleasant morning alone in the stern. Pleasant afternoon making paper dolls for the chicks.” Whose “chicks” I have utterly forgotten, but children were always a comfort. “Crochet a cap, close fitting, as my beloved hat blows somewhat.” “Crochet cap for one Mr. Roberts. Three men have lost caps overboard.” ’


And here are several more references to her diary from Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Her Progress Toward Utopia with Selected Writings by Carol Farley Kessler (also available to borrow from Internet Archive).

‘On the one hand, Gilman’s diary entries indicate a high-spirited individual who does not appear to be unduly burdened. Her energy and intelligence seem to have sustained her as a youngster, but the tendency to depression as an adult may well have had one source in these emotional deficits with her maternal relationship.’


‘Before long, pregnancy consumed her energy: after 13 October 1884, her journal is blank until New Year’s Day 1885, and that year’s diary is more blank than written. Her entries from 1 September 1884 through 4 October 1884 indicate that she was reading Elizabeth Stuart Phelps’ Dr. Zay (1882), a novel about a heroine pursuing her medical mission to serve women and children: exactly at the point when Gilman became unable any longer to focus upon keeping her diary, she encountered a model both for her own later life and for later utopian characters she would create.’


‘Gilman’s 1878 diary entry for 17 May notes: “Pleasing epistle from father stating that he can’t send us any more money for some months. ‘This is too redikelous [sic].’ Verily I must toil and moil”. Her journal for 1879 contains a class card for the Rhode Island School of Design for 1878-1879: these financial arrangements clearly were honored but her diary entries attest to unreliable financial support over time from her father.’