Sunday, October 25, 2020

A jewel beyond price

‘I availed myself of a regular rainy day to stay at home and prepare books for binding and file my letters. Such a day once in a while is a jewel beyond price.’ This is from the esteemed diaries of Philip Hone, born 240 years ago today, who did much for the economic and cultural life of New York City in the first half of the 19th century.

Hone was born in New York City, the son of a relatively poor German immigrant, on 25 October 1780. He received a local education until, aged 17, he went to work for his elder brother’s business, auctioning newly arrived cargos at the city’s port. He soon proved his worth, and was taken on as a partner. In 1801, he married Catherine Dunscomb, with whom he had six children. The business prospered so well that Hone was able to retire young. In 1821, he took his wife to Europe, attending the coronation of George IV, and subsequently enjoying a grand tour of the Continent. Back in New York City, he founded the Mercantile Library Association and was the first president of the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company in the mid 1820s.

At his elegant home, on Broadway, Hone entertained many politicians and celebrities, counting Daniel Webster, Washington Irving, and John Jacob Astor among his friends. In 1826, he was elected mayor, and served one term, later becoming active in the Whig Party. However, he was also very active (often philanthropically) in many different institutions and organisations, across different areas of the city’s economic and cultural life. ’Mostly,’ says The Bowery Boys website, ‘he’s remembered as a cultural ambassador, even commissioning artwork for City Hall, approving of a developing theater district in the not-yet-seedy Bowery and encouraging the city’s growth as an American capitol of arts and sciences.’ In 1849, he was appointed Naval Officer of the Port of New York by President Taylor, a position he held until his death in 1851. A little further information is also available from Wikipedia and American Heritage.

Hone is mostly remembered for the extensive and detailed diary he left behind - some 28 volumes - which is now owned by the New-York Historical Society. The Diary of Philip Hone 1828-1851 was edited by Bayard Tuckerman, and published in two volumes in 1889 by Dodd, Mean and Company. Both volumes (one and two) are freely available at Internet Archive. Ephemeral New York has an illustrated article about the diaries, and there is one long extract about photography available here. Wikipedia notes that Hone’s diaries are said to be the most extensive and detailed of the first half of 19th-century America.

Tuckerman’s introduction provides some background. ‘On the termination of his mayoralty, in 1827, Mr. Hone began to keep a record of various events, chiefly of a business and personal description, for convenience of reference, rather than as a literary occupation. But his interest in the life of his day, combined with a natural gift for expression which demanded gratification, caused this record gradually to assume a more elaborate character. In May, 1828, he found that he had only to go a step further to convert his common-place book into a diary, and this step he determined to take. During the rest of his life the Diary became his favourite exercise and relaxation. He devoted an hour or more daily to chronicling events of interest, to comments on politics, literature, art, the drama, or industrial subjects. He wrote without any view to publication. His thoughts were put down as they occurred to him, without previous preparation or subsequent correction. Their expression was the pleasurable one of an active mind which is relieved by giving form to ideas. The keeping of the Diary became a rooted habit; so that, when infirmity had curtailed other occupations, he adhered to this one almost to the day of his death.’

17 February 1829
‘Died this morning, Simon, the celebrated cook. He was a respectable man, who has for many years been the fashionable cook in New York, and his loss will be felt on all occasions of large dinner and evening parties, unless it should be found that some suitable shoulders should be ready to receive the mantle of this distinguished cuisinier.’

20 April 1829
‘I saw this day two celebrated personages, the Indian chief, Red-Jacket, and the original of the Harvey Birch of Cooper’s “Spy.” The former is a venerable-looking old man, with gray hair, and less of the Indian in his looks and countenance than I would have expected; and the latter is a tall old man, who looks in all respects the character which he has been made to assume.’

25 March 1834
‘I availed myself of a regular rainy day to stay at home and prepare books for binding and file my letters. Such a day once in a while is a jewel beyond price.’

14 January 1837
‘The ship “Wellington,” of 740 tons burden, was launched this day from Bergh’s ship-yards. She is intended for Grinnell, Minturn, & Co.’s London line of packets. The great duke (as the Spaniards used to call him) ought to be highly gratified at this compliment from republican America. How things are changed! A supposed predilection for Old England, charged upon the Federal party thirty years ago, lost them their political ascendency. At that time men were afraid to wear a red watch-ribbon, lest it might be taken for a symbol of Toryism and bring the wearer a broken head; but now the two old women who govern England and America are great cronies, and their subjects better friends than they were before the battle of Concord; and the name of the Prince of Conservatives, the greatest aristocrat in Europe, graces the bows of one of the most noble ships of which America has reason to be proud.’
17 November 1837
‘The terrible abolition question is fated, I fear, to destroy the union of the States, and to endanger the peace and happiness of our western world. Both parties are getting more and more confirmed in their obstinacy, and more intolerant in their prejudices. A recent disgraceful affair has occurred in the town of Alton, State of Illinois, which is calculated to excite the most painful feelings in all those who respect the laws and desire the continuance of national peace and union. Alton is situated on the left bank of the Mississippi, and opposite the slave-holding State of Missouri. An abolition paper was established there, called the “Alton Observer,” which, becoming obnoxious to the slaveholders, was assailed and the establishment destroyed, some time since, by an ungovernable mob; an attempt was recently made to reestablish the paper, which caused another most disgraceful outrage, in which two persons were killed and several wounded.’

20 February 1838
‘I called upon the President this morning, who received me with his usual urbanity. He inquired about my family and other persons of his acquaintance, talked about the weather, his habits and mode of living, but asked no questions about the state of things in New York, and, of course, did not touch upon politics.’

6 March 1838
‘A committee of the House of Representatives has been appointed to investigate the circumstances attending the late duel between Messrs. Graves and Cilley, with power to send for persons and papers. In the Senate, Mr. Prentiss, of Vermont, has introduced a bill to prevent duelling in the District of Columbia, making it death for the survivor, and imposing ten years’ imprisonment upon all persons concerned in sending a challenge.’

25 March 1842
‘We left Philadelphia at nine o’clock this morning, and got home at three. Washington Irving joined us on starting, and made a very pleasant addition to our little party. He is more gay and cheerful than he is wont to be, and talks a great deal, enlivening his conversation with stories of old times, literary reminiscences, and pretty fair jokes. He is evidently much gratified with his unexpected elevation to diplomatic dignity, and is making his preparations to sail for England on his way to Spain, in the packet of the 7th of April.’

1 October 1849
‘Mr. Alexander Duncan, who arrived this morning from Liverpool, is one of the most extraordinary instances of good fortune, so far as money is concerned, that has occurred in this country. In the winter of 1821-22 he was a fellow-passenger of mine on a voyage from Liverpool, in the ship “Amity,” Captain Maxwell. He was then seventeen years of age; a rough, awkward, shaggy-headed Scotch boy, on a voyage to see his relation, the respected John Grieg, of Canandaigua, and to try his fortune in the new “land of cakes.” There were only three of us in the cabin, Mrs. Pritchard, an English lady, being the third. We had a long, stormy passage, and I, of course, became intimate with the young Scotchman; and, unpolished as he was, I took a great liking to him. He was bright, intelligent, and of good principles, and a friendship was formed which continues until the present time.

Young Duncan, after a few weeks with his uncle at Canandaigua, went to Providence, Rhode Island, to finish his education; entered as a sophomore in the college, and improved his time so well, that by the time he graduated he had engaged the affections of a young lady, whom he married, relinquishing one baccalaureate as he assumed another. Mrs. Duncan had two rich uncles, named Butler, immensely rich, and increasing in wealth every day; for they laid up prodigiously and spent nothing, - a method which, they say, accumulates amazingly. One of these worthies died a few years after the niece’s marriage, and made her heiress to all his property. This induced Duncan and his wife to remove to Providence, where they have resided ever since. My fellow-passenger in the “Amity” bids fair to become one of the richest men in tangible productive property in the United States. And the best of all is, that he is a liberal, generous man, who will make a good use of his money; unless, like many others, his immense riches shall make him penurious, as was the case with the person from whom he inherits this mountain of wealth.’

The Diary Junction

Thursday, October 22, 2020

At dinner with Stalin

‘Marshal Stalin stressed in his remarks his feeling that the three Great Powers which had borne the burden of the war should be the ones to preserve the peace. He said it was ridiculous to think that a country like Albania should or could have an equal voice with the United Kingdom, the United States, or the USSR. It was they who had won the war.’ This is from the diaries of Edward Reilly Stettinius Jr. written while he was attending the Yalta Conference. Born 120 years ago today, he was Secretary of State under Roosevelt in the latter part of the Second World War,  and went on to become - albeit briefly - the US’s first ambassador to the United Nations.

Stettinius was born in Chicago, Illinois, on 22 October 1900, to a mother of colonial English ancestry and a father of German descent. He grew up in a mansion on the family’s estate on Staten Island and graduated from the Pomfret School in 1920. Although he attended the University of Virginia until 1924, he spent much of his time helping poor Appalachian hill families and working with employment agencies trying to assist poor students at the university. By 1926 he had opted out of college, and taken a job at General Motors working as a stock clerk. That same year, he married Virginia Gordon Wallace, daughter of a prominent family from Richmond, Virginia, and they had three sons.

Stettinius rose rapidly at General Motors becoming, in 1931, vice president in charge of public and industrial relations. He worked to improve unemployment relief programs, and served on the Industrial Advisory Board of the National Recovery Administration. By 1934, though, he had joined U.S. Steel, the country’s large corporation, and he became its chairman in 1938. From 1939, he served on the National Defense Advisory Commission, as chairman of the War Resources Board, and later was administrator of the Lend-Lease Program. In 1943, Franklin Roosevelt appointed him to the role of Under Secretary of State, with promotion to Secretary of State in late 1944.

The following year, Stettinius was a member of the US delegation to the 1945 Yalta Conference, and he chaired the US delegation to the San Francisco conference which brought together delegates from 50 Allied nations to create the United Nations. Thereafter, he was appointed the first US Ambassador to the newly created United Nations. However, he was only in the post a few months before resigning in protest at President Truman’s refusal to use the UN as a forum to resolve growing Soviet-American tensions. Subsequently, he headed the Liberia Company, which encouraged US firms to invest in the development of the African country. He became rector of the University of Virginia until his death in 1949. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, Office of the Historian, American National Biography (log-in required), and

In 1975, New Viewpoints published The Diaries of Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., 1943-1946 as edited by Thomas M. Campbell and George C. Herring. In their introduction the editors state: 

‘A diary naturally reflects the personality and needs of the man who compiles it. Stettinius intended his diary primarily as a record of his official activities, not as a source of intellectual satisfaction or emotional release. Hence it is confined largely to public matters and tells little about his private life. The diary sometimes offers sensitive and perceptive comments on public affairs in World War II, but in general it takes a cautious, even uncritical approach, reflecting the cautiousness of Stettinius’s personality and his concern for the reputations of the men around him. A sometimes insecure man who stood in awe of many of his associates, Stettinius liked people and desperately wanted to be liked, and his diary lacks the candid, frequently acerbic appraisals of men which typify the diaries of John Quincy Adams and Henry Stimson. He deals only sparingly with the power struggles that were going on around him, and indeed plays down his own conflicts with his associates.

Nevertheless, the Stettinius diary forms an important and revealing record of American diplomacy during and immediately after World War II. The summaries of conversations with U.S. officials and foreign diplomats nicely supplement the official documents published by the Department of State. The transcripts of phone conversations are a particularly valuable source, and frequently catch prominent officials in candid, unguarded moments. The diary provides significant information which cannot be found elsewhere, and it reveals much about the manner in which decisions were made in the State Department and the government as a whole.’

Here are several extracts from the diary.

9 June 1944
‘The president [Franklin D. Roosevelt] has made up his mind that it would be a mistake for him to “mix in” with the question of the Polish primer minister going to Moscow. He has come to the conclusion that Stalin would misunderstand this in view of the president’s statement to Stalin at Tehran that this was a political year. The president has authorized me to tell the Polish prime minister that he cannot send the message to Stalin but for me to make the suggestion that the Polish prime minister make arrangements to go to Moscow through President Beneš of Czechoslovakia. 

The prime minister thought that perhaps an approach might be made at this level, but he wondered whether, if the approach was made at the military level, the Soviet authorities might accept with alacrity military collaboration, but as their armies advanced, they would go ahead independently on the political level and organize the administration in Poland along their own lines without consultation with the Polish government-in-exile. No final decision was made as to the advisability of making this second approach.’

28 July 1944
‘Mr. Metcalf of Time came in and said he wanted to discuss the Argentine situation and asked whether or not we were prepared to go all out [on] economic sanctions. I told him that that was an unfair question and that he was just trying to get a scoop. I told him with a smile, “No comment. I’m a diplomat.”

He then asked several questions about the postwar discussions. I told him there was nothing to be said other than we were going to have the discussions and that I was going to head up the American group.

Mr. James Reston came in for general background discussion. He asked if we had made up our minds as to the partitioning of Germany. I said that that was something under discussion and study and I could see nothing gained by discussing this matter in the American press.

He then asked about the new ambassadors to be sent to exiled governments. I told him that matter was “moving along” but that there was nothing I could say on the subject at this time.

Mr. Reston then said that lately he seemed to be getting very little satisfaction from me, or any help or guidance.’

10 November 1944
‘I . . . finished up some work in the car on the way to the Union Station to meet the president [Franklin D. Roosevelt] who was coming in at 8:30 from Hyde Park in his special train.

The sky was overcast and it was raining fairly hard when we got there. I went into the train to greet the president. All members of the cabinet were there, together with the heads of many of the agencies.

The car was surrounded by radiomen, MP guards, and a host of Secret Service agents.

After greeting the president, I got back into my car and waited for the procession to begin. . . .

At exactly 9:00 the first car left the station loaded with Secret Service agents in their armoured car. The second car contained the president, and seated with him in the back of the car were Vice-President Elect Harry S. Truman, and Vice-President Henry A. Wallace. The only other occupant of the car, beside the driver, was Johnny Boettiger, the president’s grandson. The next five or six cars contained newsmen, and following them were the greeting committee of cabinet members and so on. We were about the tenth car. 

The procession stopped at Columbus Memorial fountain  where commissioner John Russell Young extends to the president Washington’s official homecoming welcome. The president responded with a few minute’s talk [sic] on how glad he was to be back, but he didn’t hope to make Washington his permanent home.’

The president entered the room at 2:10 pm, and the entire cabinet rose and clapped. The president was very cheerful and looked well. The president said he was like the old man Dante wrote about, who had gone to Hell four times. 

The president said the past campaign had been the dirtiest one in his entire political career.

The president turned to me and said he had been out of touch with foreign relations and was there anything new. I told the president there was much I would have to report to him and hoped to have a private talk promptly; stating to him that we had me with the Latin American ambassadors yesterday and that we had made good progress and I was sure we would get their full support on the world organization. I told the president that we had taken them to the Blair House afterward. The president asked whether we served liquor, and I said, yes, but always after five o’clock. He then said, “You must invite me over some time!” ’

14 November 1944
‘I met with Nelson Rockefeller [coordinator of Inter-American Affairs] and a group of his chairmen from various Latin American countries. The meeting was brief, and in the main we discussed Argentina. It was their general feeling that if the British supported us, we could force out the present Argentine regime in a matter of weeks. However, they did point out that it would be necessary for the British to cooperate with us honestly and not say to the Argentine people, “We are awfully sorry we have to do this, but the United States is forcing us to take this position.” These men pointed out that in this way, the United States would be further criticized and be considered a brute, and Great Britain, the poor innocent party to the deal. I assured Mr. Rockefeller and his chairmen of the State Department’s whole-hearted support.’

4 February 1945
‘I attended a dinner which the president gave for Mr. Churchill and Marshal Stalin at Livadia Palace [Yalta]. During the greater part of the dinner the conversation was general and personal in character. But during the last half hour the subject of the responsibilities and rights of the big powers as against those of the small powers came up. Marshal Stalin stressed in his remarks his feeling that the three Great Powers which had borne the burden of the war should be the ones to preserve the peace. He said it was ridiculous to think that a country like Albania should or could have an equal voice with the United Kingdom, the United States, or the USSR. It was they who had won the war. He said he was prepared to join with the United States and Great Britain to protect the small powers but that he could never agree to having any action of any of Great Powers submitted to the judgment of the small powers. The president and prime minister said that they agreed that the Great Powers would necessarily bear the major responsibility for the peace but that it was essential that they exercise their power with moderation and with respect for the rights of the smaller nations.

After Marshal Stalin and the president had left, I talked with the prime minister and Mr. Eden briefly on the voting question. The prime minister reiterated that he had been inclined to the Russian view on voting procedure because he felt everything depended on maintaining the unity of the three Great Powers. Without that the world would be doomed to inevitable catastrophe and anything that preserved that unity would have his vote. Mr. Eden took vigorous exception to the prime minister’s statement on voting procedure and said he believed the United States formula was the minimum essential to attract the support of the small nations to the organization, nor did he feel that the British people themselves would accept a ruling of unqualified unanimity.’

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

King of the Castle

The Daily Express has an incredible feature article: “Why Barbara is King of the Castle.” As I thought, the press is crediting me with having fought and won triumphantly a battle with my colleagues over the Transport Bill. Dick is a bit fed up about all this having loyally supported me all the way through and not relishing his role as the ogre of the piece.’ This is from the diaries of Barbara Castle, born 110 years ago today, a key figure in the Harold Wilson’s Labour governments in the 1960s and 1970s.

Barbara Anne Betts was born on 6 October 1910 in Chesterfield, though was brought up in Pontefract and Bradford, as her father, a tax inspector, moved to different positions. In Bradford, the family became involved with the Independent Labour Party. There, Barbara attended the local grammar school where she excelled academically, and enjoyed acting. At St Hugh’s College, Oxford, she joined the university Labour Club, and became its treasurer. She moved to London to take up journalism, and became more involved in politics. She began an affair with the much older William Mellor, helping him in the 1935 election campaign. She, herself, was elected to St Pancras Metropolitan Borough Council in 1937. Through the Second World War she worked at the Ministry of Food and was an Air Raid Precautions warden during the Blitz. She worked as a journalist on the left-wing weekly Tribune and for the Daily Mirror, whose night editor, Ted Castle, she married in 1944. The following year she was elected Member of Parliament for Blackburn - a seat she would hold for 34 years - quickly making a name for herself as the Red Queen (for her fiery speeches and red hair).

Castles first appointment in government was as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Sir Stafford Cripps, President of the Board of Trade, and then she continued in the same role for Harold Wilson. During the 1950s, she emerged as a high-profile Bevanite, and a vocal advocate of decolonisation and the Anti-Apartheid Movement. Under Prime Minister Wilson, she served, initially, as Minister for Overseas Development (a newly created position) from 1964 to 1965. Subsequently, she was appointed Minister of Transport (1965-1968) and then First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Employment (1968-1970). 

In opposition, while Ted Heath was Prime Minister, Castle continued to be the spokesperson on employment although she fell out with Wilson. When Labour was returned to power in 1974, Wilson appointed her Secretary of State for Health and Social Services. When James Callaghan took over the Labour leadership, in 1976, she was dismissed from the cabinet. Three years later, despite having opposed Britain’s entry into the Common Market, Castle was elected to the European Parliament, where she remained a leading socialist until her retirement in 1989. She was created a Life Peer in 1990. She died in 2002. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Cotton Town, The University of Bradford, Spartacus Educational, or The Guardian.

While still an active politician, in the 1980s, Castle published two volumes of diaries, chronicling her time in office from 1964-1976 (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980 and 1984). They were widely praised, as Wikipedia notes: the London Review of Books said that they show ‘more about the nature of cabinet government - even though it deals with only one Cabinet - than any previous publication, academic, political or biographical.’ Michael Foot in The Listener claimed that the diary, ‘whatever else it is or not, is a human document, hopelessly absorbing’. Paul Johnson in the Sunday Telegraph wrote that it was ‘a contribution of first rate importance to our knowledge of modern politics’.

In her preface, Castle states: ‘Whatever else may be said about political diaries they are at least an instantaneous account and therefore more accurate than a retrospective one. And it takes courage to publish them. I would like to think that, say, Roy Jenkins or Tony Benn had kept a record of what they thought, said and did at every stage in their progress in government and then were ready to publish it later without any expurgations designed to polish up their image or distort the facts retrospectively. Such pieces of self-exposure can only strengthen the democratic process by enabling people outside government to follow the evolution of those inside and judge for themselves why politicians think and act as they do and how far any adaptations of policy they may make are due to honourable realism and how far to political cowardice.’

Here are two extracts.

23-26 December 1965
‘Papers full of pictures of me. My appointment the sensation. The fact that I couldn’t drive had almost, as Harold predicted when I tried to use this as an argument against appointing me, turned out to be an asset. Ted and I drove back to London so that I could kiss hands. Then into the Ministry with Tony to introduce him and say last farewells. I could hardly tear myself away from my beloved desk. (Andrew later sent me a letter I shall treasure all my life.)

So home at last to Christmas, punctured by various phone calls which I refused to take. Stephen Swingler nobly took over the ministerial comments on the road accident figures; also stood by for twenty-four hours for a meeting with George Brown about the railways’ ‘early warning’ of their intended fares increase due to expire on 28 December. On Christmas Eve Stephen phoned to say all attempts to locate George had failed. He had been doing a tour of office parties and just wouldn’t reply to messages. That morning he was still hors de combat and the meeting clearly could not be held. Apparently this sort of thing has happened before.’

11 March 1968
‘The Daily Express has an incredible feature article: “Why Barbara is King of the Castle.” As I thought, the press is crediting me with having fought and won triumphantly a battle with my colleagues over the Transport Bill. Dick is a bit fed up about all this having loyally supported me all the way through and not relishing his role as the ogre of the piece. Frank Allaun popped up to me in the dining room in the House to tell me at more than one meeting recently - some with trade unionists and some with university people - my name has seriously been canvassed for PM. It is a flattering thought, but I don’t take it seriously.

In the meantime I am mopping up a series of office meetings. One concerned Clause 45 of the Transport Bill in which we really are taking a fantastically wide extension of the manufacturing powers of nationalized industries. Having won Cabinet approval for the general principle of extension in the Bill, I have sent my officials away to work on it and they have come back with the Bill drafted to give me practically limitless powers. It is amusing to hear them explaining solemnly that any attempt to define the powers in a Bill in order to limit them would merely lead to unwarrantable restrictions. Once again I marvel at the civil servants: these chaps really hate the whole idea of these manufacturing powers but, the policy having been adopted, they are taking the job of implementing it au sérieux. Hankey, Deputy Treasury Solicitor, assured me that the only way to control the use of the powers was by the provision officials had made for the Minister to approve all proposals for their use, to have the right to modify or withdraw proposals and the duty to publish them. The control in other words would be through the Minister. The CBI has been pressing for inclusion of a phrase to the effect that, in using the powers, nationalized industries must behave in all ways like ‘a company engaged in private enterprise’. Hankey is against my accepting this on the grounds that it doesn’t make any sense, but the others think it might have some advantages presentationally. The real safeguard is that I have got Bill Johnson to agree reluctantly to set up a separate subsidiary company to run the railway workshops. This of course would have to conform to the Companies Acts. But, having gone into all the pros and cons very carefully for an hour this morning, I have decided that an amendment to include the desired words would not do any harm and might do some good. I have asked them to consult the Scottish Office urgently and table a Government amendment on these lines.

Went along to Dick’s room at 7.45 to discuss the Transport Bill guillotine to find no John Silkin there. Dick was in a sour and desperate mood. He had been dining with Aubrey Jones, who complained he had never been consulted on the new proposals for P and I policy. Dick wasn’t too optimistic either about the Budget being radical. “The trouble is”, he says, “Harold and Roy will just think it is radical.” We sat there drinking and gossiping for nearly an hour waiting for John Silkin to turn up.

His failure to do so only heightened Dick’s irritation. That was his trouble, he said, he had to deal with a Chief Whip who was irresponsible. He himself was still seriously thinking of throwing in his hand: why didn’t he just retire and write books and see more of his family? In these moods Dick is not a very reliable witness to anything. But I am really worried by his state of mind.’

Saturday, October 3, 2020

The last manuscript

‘There it was - a bound ledger of the kind used in simple bookkeeping; it was in just such ledgers as this that Wolfe had written his first longhand drafts of everything. The ledger was full to the last page of his almost illegible penciled scrawl, with the title, “A Western Journey,” at the beginning. [ . . .] It was the last manuscript which that large hand of the artist would ever write.’ Thomas Wolfe, one of America’s 20th century literary heroes, was born 120 years ago today. On his early death (he was not yet 40) he left behind a number of manuscripts, including a diary of his very last trip - as described above by the editor of later works, Edward Aswell.

Wolfe was born on 3 October 1900 in Asheville, North Carolina, the youngest of eight children. His father was a stone carver and ran a gravestone business, while his wife ran a boarding house. He studied, from the age of 15, at University of North Carolina, where he become a member of the Dialectic Society and Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. He ran the student newspaper for a while, took a course in playwriting, and won the Worth Prize for Philosophy. In mid-1920, he entered Harvard University, where he studied playwriting with George Pierce Baker - Baker’s 47 Workshop produced several of his plays.

In 1923, Wolfe moved to New York City, teaching at Washington Square University, but still intending to become a playwright. In 1924-1925, he travelled through Europe, and on the way back met Aline Bernstein, a set designer. Although she was married and some 20 years older than him, they embarked on a five year affair. Biographers say she exerted a powerful influence over Wolfe, encouraging and funding his writing efforts, now focused on fiction rather than drama.

In 1929, Scribner published Wolfe’s first novel Look Homeward, Angel, a fictionalised account of his own early experiences of family, friends, and the boarders at his mother’s establishment. It received mixed critical reviews in the US, but became a bestseller in the UK. Some members of his family and the Asheville community, however, were upset with their portrayals in the book. Wolfe then traveled to Europe for a year on a Guggenheim Fellowship. His second novel, Of Time and the River, was published in 1935. As with the first novel, Wolfe’s lengthy manuscript had been cut and shaped significantly by the Scribner’s most prominent book editor, Maxwell Perkins. It was more of a commercial success than the first, but Wolfe himself was displeased with the way it had been edited. Subsequently, Wolfe left Scribner’s and joined Harper & Brothers. Although he quickly published a memoir entitled The Story of a Novel (in which he wrote at length about his relationship with Perkins) he never published another novel in his lifetime. He returned to spend time in Germany (where his books were popular) but found he did not like the political developments and returned to the US. 

In 1938, after submitting over one million words in manuscript form to his new editor, Edward Aswell of Harper & Brothers, Wolfe left New York for a tour of the Western United States. In July, he fell ill with pneumonia, and in September he died from tuberculosis. Two long novels were edited posthumously by Aswell - The Web and the Rock and You Can’t Go Home Again - as well as other short stories and plays. Encyclopaedia Britannica has this assessment: ‘Wolfe was gifted with the faculty of almost total recall, and his fiction is characterized by an intense consciousness of scene and place, together with what is often an extraordinary lyric power. In Look Homeward, Angel and Of Time and the River, Wolfe was able to imbue his life story and the figures of his parents with a lofty romantic quality that has epic and mythopoeic overtones. Powerful emotional evocation and literal reporting are combined in his fiction, and he often alternates between dramatically effective episodes of recollection and highly charged passages of rhetoric.’ Further information is also available at Wikipedia, US National Library of Medicine, or North Carolina Historic Sites.

One of the manuscripts Wolfe left behind after his tragic early death was a diary he had kept during his last trip. It was edited by Aswell and published as A Western Journal - A Daily Log of The Great Parks Trip by University of Pittsburgh Press in 1951. The full text can be read freely online at Internet Archive. The short book starts with a ‘Note’ written by Aswell. In it, Aswell describes how Wolfe, having finished his trip, wrote him a letter in which he mentioned ‘A Western Journey’. Aswell concludes the note as follows: 

‘. . . on that sad September fifteenth, a few hours after Wolfe had died, I sat in the hospital talking with the members of his family. The question of his unpublished manuscripts came up. I asked if they knew anything about “A Western Journey.” His mother undertook to look through his bags. And there it was - a bound ledger of the kind used in simple bookkeeping; it was in just such ledgers as this that Wolfe had written his first longhand drafts of everything. The ledger was full to the last page of his almost illegible penciled scrawl, with the title, “A Western Journey,” at the beginning. There were not fifty thousand words, nothing like it. Wolfe always used round numbers loosely. When he said, “I have written a million words,” he meant: “I have written a lot.” When he said, “I have written fifty thousand words,” he meant: “I have written only a little; in fact, I have just started.” It was the last manuscript which that large hand of the artist would ever write.’ 

Here are two extracts from the diary.

20 June 1938 
‘Left Portland, University Club, 8:15 sharp - Fair day, bright sunlight, no cloud in sky - Went South by East through farmlands of upper Willamette and around base of Mount Hood which was glowing in brilliant sun - Then climbed and crossed Cascades, and came down with suddenness of knife into the dry lands of the Eastern slope - Then over high plateau and through bare hills and canyons and irrigated farmlands here and there, low valley, etc., and into Bent at 12:45 - 200 miles in 4 1/2 hours - 

Then lunch at hotel and view of the 3 Sisters and the Cascade range - then up to the Pilot Butte above the town - the great plain stretching infinite away - and unapproachable the great line of the Cascades with their snowspired sentinels Hood, Adams, Jefferson, 3 sisters, etc, and out of Bend at 3 and then through the vast and level pinelands - somewhat reminiscent of the South for 100 miles then down through the noble pines to the vast plainlike valley of the Klamath? - the virgin land of Canaan all again - the far-off ranges - infinite - Oregon and the Promised Land - then through the valley floor - past Indian reservation - Capt Jack - the Modocs - the great trees open approaching vicinity of the Park - the entrance and the reservation - the forester - the houses - the great snow patches underneath the trees - then the great climb upwards - the foresting, administration - up and up again - through the passes the great plain behind and at length the incredible crater of the lake - the hotel and a certain cheerlessness in spite of cordialness - dry tongues vain-licking for a feast - the return, the cottages, the college boys and girls who serve and wait - the cafeteria and the souvenirs - the great crater fading coldly in incredible cold light - at length departure - and the forest rangers down below - long, long talks - too long with them about “our wonders”, etc - then by darkness the sixty or seventy miles down the great dim expanse of Klamath Lake, the decision to stay here for the night - 3 beers, a shower, and this, reveille at 5:30 in the morning - and so to bed!

First day: 404 miles 

The gigantic unconscious humor of the situation - C “making every national park” without seeing any of them - the main thing is to “make them” - and so on and on tomorrow’

23 June 1938

‘Up at 7 o'clock in hotel at Mohave - and already the room hot and stuffy and the wind that had promised a desert storm the night before was still and the sun already hot and mucoid on the incredibly dirty and besplattered window panes - and a moments look of hot tarred roof and a dirty ventilator in the restaurant below and no moving life but the freight cars of S.P. rr - and a slow freight climbing fast and weariness - so up and shaved and dressed and gripped the zipper and downstairs and the white-cream Ford waiting and the two others - in the car - and to the cafe for breakfast - eggs and pancakes, sausages most hearty - and a company of r.r. men - So out of town at 8:10 and headed straight into the desert - and so straight across the Mohave at high speed for four hours - to Barstow - so in full flight now - the desert yet more desert - blazing heat - 102 inside the filling station - the dejected old man and his wife - and so the desert mountains, crateric, lavic and volcanic, and so more fiendish the fiend desert of the lavoid earth like an immense plain of Librea tar - and very occasionally a tiny blistered little house - and once or twice the paradise of water and the magic greenery of desert trees - and yet hotter and more fiendish - through fried hills - cupreous, ferrous, and denuded as slag heaps - and so the filling station and the furnace air fanned by a hot dry strangely invigorating breeze and the filling station man who couldn’t sign “I'm only up an hour and my hands shake so with the heat” - and Needles at last in blazing heat and the restaurant station and hotel and Fred Harvey all aircooled, and a good luncheon, and an hour here -  

so out again in blazing heat - 106° within the strolling of the station awning - 116 or 120 out of it - and so out of Needles - and through heat blasted air along the Colorado 15 miles or so and then across the river into Arizona - pause for inspection, all friendly and immediate - then into the desert world of Arizona - the heat blasted air - the desert mountain slopes clear in view and more devilish - the crateric and volcanic slopes down in and up and up among them, now and then a blistered little town - a few blazing houses and the fronts of stores - up and up now and fried desert slopes prodigiously - and into Oatman and the gold mining pits, the craterholes, the mine shafts and the signs of new gold digging - Mexicans half naked before a pit - and up and up and only up and up to Goldcrest? 

Across the Mohave the S.P. fringed with black against the blazing crater of the desert sky snakes on, snakes on its monotone of forever and of now - moveless Immediate and at last the rim and down and down through blasted slopes, volcanic “pipes" and ancient sea erosions, mesa table heads, columnar swathes, stratifications, and the fiendish wind, and below the vast pale, lemon-mystic plain - and far away immeasurably far the almost moveless plume of black of engine smoke and the double header freight advancing - advanceless moveless - moving through timeless time and on and on across the immense plain backed by more immensities of fiendish mountain slopes to meet it and so almost meeting moveless-moving never meeting up and up and round and through a pass and down to Kingman and a halt for water and on and on and up and down into another mighty plain, desert growing grey-green greener - and some cattle now and always up and up and through fried blasted slopes and the enormous lemon-magic of the desert plains, fiend mountain slopes pure lemon heat mist as from magic seas arising - and a halt for gas at a filling station with a water fountain “Please be careful with the water we have to haul it 60 miles” - 5280 feet above - and 4800 feet we've climbed since Needles and on and on and up and the country greening now and 

steers in fields wrenching grey-green grass among the sage brush clumps and trees beginning now - the National Forest beginning - and new greenery - and trees and pines and grass again - a world of desert greenness still not Oregon - but a different world entirely from the desert world and hill slopes no longer fiend troubled but now friendly, forested familiar, and around and down and in a pleasant valley Williams - and for a beer here where I thought I was 3 years ago - bartender a Mexican or an Indian or both and out and on our way again only the great road leading across the continent and 6 or 7 miles out an of turn to the left for the Grand Canyon - and not much climbing now, but up and down again the great plateau 7000 feet on top - and green fields now and grass and steers and hills forested and cooler and trees and on and on toward (levelly) the distant twin rims - blue-vague defined - of the terrific canyon - the great sun sinking now below our 7000 feet - we racing on to catch him at the canyon ere he sinks entirely - but too late, too late - at last the rangers little house, the permit and the sticker, the inevitable conversations, the polite goodbyes - and (almost dark now) at 8:35 to the edges of the canyon - to Bright Angel Lodge - and before we enter between the cabins of the Big Gorgooby - and the Big Gorgooby there immensely, darkly, almost weirdly there - a fathomless darkness peered at from the very edge of hell with abysmal starlight - almost unseen - just fathomlessly there - So to our cabin - and delightful service - and so to dinner in the Lodge - and our rudeeleven in jodphurs, pajamas, shirts, and country suits, and Fred Harvey’s ornate wigwam - and to dinner here - and then to walk along the rim of Big Gorgooby and inspect the big hotel - and at the stars innumerable and immense above the Big Gorgooby just a look - a big look - so goodnight and 500 miles today -’