Friday, November 27, 2020

I was obliged to comfort her

‘Observed a nice looking girl waiting as well as myself so got into conversation with her but was soon interrupted by the arrival of the engine puff, puff, puffing away. Laid hold of her hand took her across the rails to the opposite platform, handed her in and took very good care to sit on the next seat to her. All Right - off she goes - cutting along like a sky rocket. In going through the tunnels the engine fellow set the confounded screeching whistle a going which so terrified my fair companion that I was obliged to put my arm around her waist to comfort her.’ This is Edward Snell, born two centuries ago today, who kept a lively, candid and illustrated diary while working as a young engineer in the West Country. Before he was 30 years old, he emigrated to Australia, where he also kept a diary, and where he made his fortune on the railways.

Snell, the eldest of four children, was born on 27 November 1820, in Barnstaple, Devon, son of a jeweller and clockmaker. When his father died in 1827, his mother was left in financial difficulties, and the family moved to a smaller house in nearby Newport. Thanks to family connections, Snell was able to take up a seven year apprenticeship in Bath as an engineer and millwright with Stothert’s foundry. On completion of his training, he secured a position at the Great Western Railway Company Swindon workshops as head draughtsman, soon rising to deputy works manager. He remained with the company for six years, until a reduction in wages in 1948-1949 (after the British Railway Mania crash) decided him to emigrate to Australia.

Snell spent some time in South Australia surveying and painting, and then gold digging in Castlemaine (where he amassed £341 worth of gold in less than half a year). He married Charlotte Elizabeth Bayley in Geelong in 1853, and they would have nine children. That same year, and for substantial fees, he began to work for the Geelong and Melbourne Railway Company, designing, among other structures, a substantial terminal station and workshops at Geelong. Some of these works were criticised for being flawed, and Snell was called to defend his work in a number of enquires. He also set up several business partnerships, though none lasted very long. He returned to England with his family in 1858, to a life of retirement. He turned to spiritualism in the 1870s, gaining some notoriety in Bath, and died in 1880. Further information is available from Wikipedia.

Snell is largely remembered today for two diaries, both profusely illustrated with pen and ink sketches, that he kept, one during his early working life (after the apprenticeship) from 1842 to 1849, and the other while he was in Australia, 1849-1858. The first is (or was in 2002) in the possession of Snell’s great grand-daughter; the second was purchased in 1935 by the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, from a book dealer in Exeter. Only the Australia diary has been published - by Australian publisher Angus & Robertson in 1989 as The Life and Adventures of Edward Snell: The illustrated diary of an artist, engineer and adventurer in the Australian colonies 1849 to 1859 (edited and introduced by Tom Griffiths).

Unfortunately, I have not been able to source any extracts from The Life and Adventures; but, online, I have found a few extracts form the Australia diary. In 2002, the Bath History journal (Volume IX) published Edward Snell’s Diary: A Journeyman Engineer in Bath in the 1840s written by John Cattell (I think, but I’m not certain, that this must be the National Head of Research at Historic England - see here). Cattell starts off his essay as follows: ‘Edward Snell is a relatively obscure figure who is best known in this country for his two watercolour views of the new locomotive works and railway village in Swindon in 1849. But he was so much more - engine, erector, civil engineer, surveyor, draughtsman, inventor, artist, traveller and adventurer. His greatest contribution to posterity; perhaps, was as a diarist and chronicler of the social scene in England and subsequently in Australia.’

And here is Cattell’s concluding paragraph: ‘Snell’s English diary offers fresh insights into the true nature of life for many of Bath’s inhabitants in the 1840s. His account of a busy working life is strikingly at odds with the usual descriptions of genteel Bath society, and reflects the changing nature of the city at that time. It puts flesh on the bones of the histories of the period in a way that amounts to a veritable goldmine for the social historian. Above all it is the personal and highly entertaining story of an articulate young artisan eager to make his way in the world. That it is told with wry humour and illustrated by such amusing sketches, at times approaching caricature, only adds to its appeal.’

The essay continues with much detail and diagrams from the diary, and also a few extracts. It is worth noting that Cattell wrote at the time, i.e. in 2002, that he was editing Snell’s first diary for publication - but I’ve found no trace of any such publication. Here are some extracts from Snell’s diary as found in Cattell’s essay. (My use of ‘Undated’ signifies that there is no date given in Cattell’s essay for that entry.)

14 April 1842
’Staid at home all evening reading. Zenas Hall came in slightly fuddled and began to show symptoms of a scrimmage - but the effervescence of his spirits soon passed off and he sat down quietly playing his flute till bedtime ... [When] Zenas ... staggered into the room this evening ... the first indication of his not being  compis mentis  was communicated to me in the shape of a punch on the head. Owing however to the difficulty he experienced in preserving his centre of gravity the said ‘punch’ was no more than a love tap and did not in the least ruffle my truly amiable temper.’

’Miss B[rooke] desired me to brew myself a glass of whiskey and water and as I was not aware of the strength of the ‘cratur’ I mixed a jolly good tumbler of half and half swallowed it and soon found myself unable to preserve my centre of gravity and as great as a lord in my estimation. Can’t very distinctly remember all the little absurdities I was guilty of. I had a notion of trying to walk in a straight line from one lamp post to another but I have a strong suspicion that I did not succeed. I have likewise a faint recollection of making love to Mrs Coopey, attempting to preach a sermon, then spouting Richard the 3rd, singing a Psalm & then toddling up stairs to bed with a great many injunctions from Mrs Coopey to be sure & take care of the candle and not set any thing on fire.’

‘Went home to bed - found it plaguey hot & wanted to sleep with the window open but Hall wouldn’t consent to it so I took up my quarters on the outside of the bed and kept Hall awake by chattering till he got so savage I thought it dangerous to persist so in compliance with his advice I ‘shut my head and went to sleep’.

26 December 1844
’We met at Mr HS [Snell’s shorthand for Henry Stothert] the same company we saw the night before with the addition of Mr Laufiere & Mr & Mrs William Stothert & family. Spent the evening gloriously - every delicacy of the Season - beautiful girls, music, dancing, etc. Obliged to leave them at 12 tho. Went into the Full Moon with Mr Laufiere & Mr Pitt & had a glass of brandy & water & cigar.’

‘This morning old Bluebottle came up into the pattern shop grumbling about our shutting the door and trigged it open himself, but had barely reached the bottom of the ladder before it was shut again, by that fountain of all mischief Bill Glass. This contempt of his authority acted upon old Bluebottle’s excitable temper to such a degree that he was constrained to blow off steam, which he immediately did in the shape of a volley of oaths and imprecations quite dismal & heartrending to listen to, but we excused it as we thought without a vent of some kind he must inevitably have burst his boiler. When the tempest of his wrath had in some degree subsided, he mildly swore by God he’d have the door off the hinges, which was accordingly done by old Sam Hook, so that the pattern shop is now most admirably ventilated, though unfortunately instead of pure air of heaven, ‘wot poets call zephyr breeze’ the Sulphuric vapour from the furnace finds it way into the shop, and by half suffocating the unfortunate inmates gives them a slight foretaste of what they may expect in the next world, when consigned to the tender mercies of the gentleman whose name should never be mentioned in the hearing of ‘Ears polite’.’

22 April [?]
’. . . to see Miss Ellis & found she was out. This is probably the last time I shall ever see her as she leaves Bath for Glamorganshire tomorrow & will not return till the winter, & before that time I shall, I expect, have quitted Bath for London.’

24 April [?]
‘In the afternoon took a walk with a Miss [Susan] Thomthwaite to Sham Castle where she left me to flirt with a tailor and 2 counterjumpers and if I had any regard for her I should have taken offence at it. As it was it made me look rather silly and I’ll warrant I don’t walk her out again for some time to come ... After Chaple [sic] took a walk with Miss Ellis and after I left her took another with Henrietta.’

>‘While there observed a nice looking girl waiting as well as myself so got into conversation with her but was soon interrupted by the arrival of the engine puff, puff, puffing away. Laid hold of her hand took her across the rails to the opposite platform, handed her in and took very good care to sit on the next seat to her. All Right - off she goes - cutting along like a sky rocket. In going through the tunnels the engine fellow set the confounded screeching whistle a going which so terrified my fair companion that I was obliged to put my arm around her waist to comfort her and being in total darkness thought there could be no harm in giving her a kiss or two but the tunnel was so confoundedly long at Brislington that by Jove I could hardly make a hundred last all the way through.’

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Canadian painter of icebergs

‘My paintings are always disasters while I am doing them. It isn’t until I see them later, and someone else likes them, that I can see their virtues.’ This is from the early teen diary of Doris Mccarthy, a Canadian artist who died a decade ago today (aged 100!). She spent her life teaching, and it was only in retirement that she began to exhibit more commercially, often of paintings inspired by travels in Canada and to the Arctic. She also wrote several autobiographical works in which she occasionally referenced her own diaries.

McCarthy was born in Calgary, Alberta, in 1910. She attended the Ontario College of Art from 1926 to 1930, where she was awarded various scholarships and prizes. She became a teacher at Central Technical School in downtown Toronto where she worked for much of her life. She travelled abroad extensively and painted the landscapes of various countries. Following her retirement in 1972, she began exhibiting commercially on a more regular basis, not just in Toronto but across the country. That year, she also made the first of a number of trips to the Arctic. Indeed, she was probably best known for her Canadian landscapes and her scenes of Arctic icebergs. In 1999, she was the subject of a major retrospective exhibition at the McMichael Canadian Collection in Kleinberg, Ontario. She was made a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, and was a recipient of the Order of Canada among other honours. She died on 25 November 2010. A little further information is available at Wikipedia, the Wynick/Tuck Gallery, and Mountain Galleries.

McCarthy seems to have been a diarist. Among the many items in her archive, the University of Toronto lists ‘over five decades of correspondence between McCarthy and her best friend, Marjorie Beer (née Wood); diaries written by McCarthy between the ages of 12 and 90; personal artifacts and keepsakes; photographs of her family, life and travels dating back to the late 19th Century; and draft manuscripts of McCarthy's autobiographical publications’. Images from two of her diaries - the first from January 1922 to October 1924 and the second from 1930-1931 - are available to view at the university’s collections website, although there is no text transcription.

The university provides a brief description of the first of these two diaries. ‘Doris McCarthy’s personal journal from ages twelve to fourteen. Doris McCarthy started writing with Marjorie for the school newspaper. Both of them developed an interest in authorship and decided they would ask for diaries on Christmas 1921. Doris started her first journal, this one, on New Year's day, 1922. Because Doris’ journal was blank, she could write whenever and however much she wanted to on the pages. Doris also developed the habit of drawing/sketching at the same time as her interest in writing. Although there are some sketches in the journals, she primarily used other exercise books for drawing.’

Although McCarthy’s diaries have never been published (as far as I know), she did, later in life, write several autobiographical works - A Fool in Paradise, The Good Wine, and Ninety Years Wise - which can be digitally borrowed (briefly) at Internet Archive. These include occasional references to, and quotes from, her diaries.

In 2006, Second Story Press published Doris McCarthy: My Life. The publisher states: ‘This memoir marries the best of McCarthy’s previous writings with exciting new material and traces a compelling woman’s life from energetic early girlhood to reflective old age.’ Some pages of this can be previewed at Googlebooks. And, like the earlier books, she makes infrequent references to her diaries. Here are several of those references (in no particular order).  

‘My diary is full of complaints about the bad sketches I was making, but it later reports a quite successful exhibition of them and the canvases based on them. My paintings are always disasters while I am doing them. It isn’t until I see them later, and someone else likes them, that I can see their virtues.’


‘Living in my own little flat had given me back the freedom of my diary, and I wrote out the emotions of those first tormented up-and-down months. I fought against falling into such a profitless love, struggling to be content with companionship, lying awake nights in anger and despair, weeping on Marjorie’s shoulder. By early November we had agreed to stop seeing each other.

“November 6: I’m glad it’s done, and I’m more terrified of going on than of stopping; but I still feel the way I did the week war was declared - as if my world had suddenly fallen apart, and I’m sick with loneliness and fear of my own weakness.” ’


‘My diary for the spring of 1974 is full of details about sales of paintings, fresh delight in the garden, and the newfound pleasures of retirement.’


‘It was wonderful that two children who were so different could grow to be so close. Marjorie was almost delicate; Doris was stocky and strong, with her mother’s emotional energy, and the confidence to take the lead in physical skills. Doris was a good student, intellectual, with high marks in everything. Marjorie was top student in the humanities but had no head for mathematics; her genius was with people. She met everyone with a warmth and interest that took her right through their reserve and into their hearts. Marjorie was a poet with a magical imagination and a delicious sense of fun. We both intended to become great authors, and each of us had in the works several short stories and at least one full-length novel. In discussing our literary ambitions, we agreed, probably on her suggestion, to ask to be given diaries for Christmas, in order to practice Improving Our Style. On New Year’s Day 1922, each of us began a journal.

A few weeks later we wrote a verse play together, a one-act drama about a fairy kingdom suffering under persecution by mischievous elves. I suspect that its plot owed much to Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare. It contained some slight variety of character, a modicum of conflict, and a happy ending. Our elders were impressed and, thanks no doubt to Mother’s influence, it was produced as part of a concert to raise money for the building of the St. Aidan’s church Memorial Hall. As the curtain closed, the rector, Dr. Cotton, called us up to the stage to be presented with flowers. My diary’s detailed description of the event concludes with the declaration, “This day is an epoch in my life.” ’

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Exhibition of intolerance

‘A Menshevik deputy ascended the rostrum and attempted to refute the charges brought against his party, but the other Soviet members interrupted and hissed so violently he could not proceed. Communist speakers followed, in essence repeating the words of Kamenev. The exhibition of intolerance, so unworthy of a revolutionary assembly, depressed me.’ This is from a memoir by Alexander Berkman, a Russian anarchist born 150 years ago today. After living in America for 20 years, more than half of which were spent in prison, he returned to his home country - only to be severely disappointed in the revolutionary government of Lenin and Trotsky. His memoir was published as a ‘diary’, but at least one expert believes he rewrote parts of the diary for publication.    

Berkman was born on 21 November 1870, the son of a Jewish businessman, in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, then part of the Russian Empire. The family was prosperous enough to be allowed to move, despite the usual restrictions for Jewish people, to St. Petersburg where young Berkman received a privileged education reserved for the city’s elite. However, growing radicalism among the workers led to a wave of violence and the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881. Soon after, his father died, the business had to be sold, and the family lost their right to live in the capital. The family moved to Kovno, but there Berkman increasingly turned to revolutionary literature (though it was banned by the new Tsar). After his mother died in 1887, he emigrated to the United States and settled in New York City.

Berkman quickly involved himself in radical political communities, joining a fight to free the men convicted of the Haymarket Bombing. He came under the influence of Johann Most, the best known anarchist in the US, and became a type setter for Most’s newspaper. He met Emma Goldman, a young Russian immigrant, on her first day in New York City; the two formed a relationship and lived together - indeed they remained close friends for the rest of Berkman’s life. In 1892, Berkman and Goldman relocated to to Worcester, Massachusetts, where they made a living providing lunches for local workers. Later the same year, Berkman attempted to kill Henry Clay Frick, a steel industry executive who had ordered an attack on striking workers, some of whom died. Berkman was convicted of murder, and served 14 years at the Western Penitentiary of Pennsylvania in Allegheny City.

In 1906, Berkman was released. By the following year, he had become editor of Goldman’s magazine Mother Earth, which would soon grow into the country’s leading anarchist publication. Together, Berkman and Goldman set up the Ferrer Centre in 1910, a free school and community centre for adults. In 1912, Berkman published his Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist. With the outbreak of WWI, Berkman and Goldman focused their activities first on keeping the US out of the war, and then on opposing conscription. They soon contravened the newly minted Espionage Act, and were both sent to prison for two years. When released, in 1919, they were deported to the Soviet Union (along with many others). On arrival, they toured Russia collecting material for the Museum of the Revolution in Petrograd.

However Berkman and Goldman found Lenin and Trotsky were strongly opposed to anarchism. When they ordered a military response to a worker uprising in the port of Kronstadt - again, as with the steel workers in the US - there were many fatalities. Severely disappointed with Russia, Berkman left, settling first in Berlin where he wrote The Bolshevik Myth and helped with the publishing of Goldman’s My Two Years in Russia. Subsequently, Berkman moved to France, eking out a living as a translator and editor. He also wrote his last book Now and After: The ABC of Communist Anarchism. In the 1930s, Berkman’s health began to deteriorate. After two unsuccessful operations, he decided to end his life. He died in June 1936 as a consequence of a botched attempt to shoot himself. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Spartacus Educational, PBS or the Anarchy Archives.

Two of Berkman’s three books were sourced from, or written like, diaries. Wikipedia says of Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist (Mother Earth Publishing Association, 1912) that ‘it reads like a diary’ though, in fact, it was written after Berkman’s release from prison, and contains no dated extracts. The Bolshevik Myth (Diary 1920-1922) was published by Boni and Liveright in 1925 - freely available at Internet Archive and The Anarchist Library. Although some parts, especially at the beginning during Berkman’s sea voyage back to Europe, read like a diary and have dated entries, the bulk of the narrative does not, and flows more like a memoir. Moreover, it appears that in preparing the book Berkman re-wrote his own diary entries. (Wikipedia refers to Nicolas Walter who researched Berkman’s papers at the International Institute of Social History and found that the diary format was, basically, a literary device.)

Here is part of Berkman’s preface to The Bolshevik Myth: ‘The present work is compiled from the Diary which I kept during my two years’ stay in Russia. It is the chronicle of an intense experience, of impressions and observations noted down day by day, in different parts of the country, among various walks of life. Most of the names are deleted, for the obvious reason of protecting the persons in question.

So far as I know it is the only journal kept in Russia during those momentous years (1920-1922). It was a rather difficult task, as those familiar with Russian conditions will understand. But long practice in such matters - keeping memoranda even in prison - enabled me to preserve my Diary through many vicissitudes and searches, and get it safely out of the country. Its Odyssey was adventurous and eventful. After having journeyed through Russia for two years, the Diary succeeded in crossing the border, only to be lost before it could join me. There followed an anxious hunt through several European lands, and when hope of locating my notebooks was almost given up, they were discovered in the attic of a very much frightened old lady in Germany. But that is another story.

Sufficient that the manuscript was finally found and can now be presented to the public in the present volume. If it will aid in visualizing the inner life of the Revolution during the period described, if it will bring the reader closer to the Russian people and their great martyrdom, the mission of my Diary will be accomplished and my efforts well repaid.’

Here are several dated extracts from the book.

17 January 1920
‘Landed, 2 P. M. Sent radios to Tchicherin (Moscow) and Shatov (Petrograd) notifying them of the arrival of the first group of political deportees from America.

We are to travel in sealed cars through Finland to the Russian border. The Captain of the Buford allowed us three days’ rations for the journey.

The leave-taking of the crew and soldiers touched me deeply. Many of them have become attached to us, and they have “treated us white,” to use their own expression. They made us promise to write them from Russia.’

18 January 1920
‘Crossing snow-clad country. Cars cold, unheated. The compartments are locked, with Finnish guards on every platform. Even within are the White soldiers, at every door. Silent, forbidding looking. They refuse to enter into conversation.

2 P. M. - In Viborg. We are practically without food. The Finnish soldiers have stolen most of the products given us by the Buford.

Through our car windows we noticed a Finnish worker standing on the platform and surreptitiously signaling us with a miniature red flag. We waved recognition. Half an hour later the doors of our car were unlocked, and the workman entered to “fix the lights,” as he announced. “Fearful reaction here,” he whispered; “White terror against the workers. We need the help of revolutionary Russia.”

Wired again today to Tchicherin and Shatov, urging haste in sending a committee to meet the deportees on the Russian border.’

6 March 1920
‘At the first session of the newly elected Moscow Soviet, Kamenev was in the chair. He reported on the critical food and fuel situation, denounced the Mensheviki and Social Revolutionists as the counter-revolutionary aids of the Allies, and closed by voicing his conviction about the near outbreak of the social revolution abroad.

A Menshevik deputy ascended the rostrum and attempted to refute the charges brought against his party, but the other Soviet members interrupted and hissed so violently he could not proceed. Communist speakers followed, in essence repeating the words of Kamenev. The exhibition of intolerance, so unworthy of a revolutionary assembly, depressed me. I felt that it grossly offended against the spirit and purpose of the august body, the Moscow Soviet, whose work should express the best thought and ideas of its members and crystallize them in effective and wise action.

After the close of the Soviet session began the first anniversary meeting of the Third International, in the Bolshoi Theater. It was attended by practically the same audience, and Kamenev was again Chairman. It was a most significant event to me, this gathering of the proletariat of all countries, in the persons of its delegates, in the capital of the great Revolution. I saw in it the symbol of the coming daybreak. But the entire absence of enthusiasm saddened me. The audience was official and stiff, as if on parade; the proceedings mechanical, lacking all spontaneity. Kamenev, Radek, and other Communists spoke. Radek thundered against the scoundrelism of the world bourgeoisie, vilified the social patriots of all countries, and enlarged upon the coming revolutions. His long and tedious speech tired me.’

21 October 1920
‘A clear, cold day. The first snow of the season on the ground, Moscow presents a familiar sight, and I feel at home after our long absence.

Eagerly I absorb the news at the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs. The Twelfth Army has precipitately retreated from Warsaw, but the Poles are not pursuing. It is officially realized now what a serious and costly mistake the campaign was, and how baseless the expectations of a revolution in Poland. It is hoped that a quick peace may be patched up without too great sacrifices on the part of Russia.

Happier is the news from other fronts. Eastern Siberia has been cleared of the last remnants of Kolchak’s army under Ataman Semyonov. In the Crimea Wrangel is almost entirely crushed, not the least share of credit admittedly belonging to Makhno. Far from aiding the counter-revolutionary forces, as had been reported, the povstantsi joined the fight against the White general. This development was the result of a politico-military agreement between the Bolsheviki and Makhno, the main condition of the latter being the immediate liberation of the imprisoned Anarchists and Makhnovtsi, and a guarantee of free speech and press for them in the Ukraina. The telegram sent at the time by Makhno requesting the presence of Emma Goldman and myself at the conferences did not reach us. It was not forwarded by the Foreign Office.

Our anxiety about Henry Alsberg is, relieved: he is now safely in Riga, having been permitted to leave Russia after his forced return from the south. Albert Boni and Pat Quinlan are in the Tcheka, no definite reason for their detention being assigned. Mrs. Harrison, my erstwhile neighbor in the Kharitonensky, is held as a British spy. Nuorteva, Soviet representative in New York, was deported from the States and is now at the head of the British-American bureau in the Foreign Office. Rosenberg, the bad-tempered and ill-mannered confidential secretary of Tchicherin, all-powerful and cordially disliked, is about to leave for the Far East, “on an important mission,” as he informs me. Incidentally, as if by afterthought, he refers to the “funeral tomorrow,” and with a shock I learn of the death of John Reed. The Expedition is to leave this evening for Petrograd, but we decide to postpone our departure in order to pay the last tribute to our dead friend.

A fresh grave along the Kremlin wall, opposite the Red Square, the honored resting place of the revolutionary martyrs. I stand at the brink, supporting Louise Bryant who has entirely abandoned herself to her grief. She had hastened from America to meet Jack after a long separation. Missing him in Petrograd, she proceeded to Moscow only to learn that Reed had been ordered to Baku to the Congress of Eastern Peoples. He had not quite recovered from the effects of his imprisonment in Finland and he was unwilling to undertake the arduous journey. But Zinoviev insisted; it was imperative, he said, to have America represented, and like a good Party soldier Jack obeyed. But his weakened constitution could not withstand the hardships of Russian travel and its fatal infections. Reed was brought back to Moscow critically ill. In spite of the efforts of the best physicians he died on October 16.
The sky is wrapped in gray. Rain and sleet are in the air. Between the speakers’ words the rain strikes Jack’s coffin, punctuating the sentences as if driving nails into the casket. Clear and rounded like the water drops are the official eulogies falling upon the hearing with dull meaninglessness. Louise cowers on the wet ground. With difficulty I persuade her to rise, almost forcing her to her feet. She seems in a daze, oblivious to the tribute of the Party mourners. Bukharin, Reinstein, and representatives of Communist sections of Europe and America praise the advance guard of world revolution, while Louise is desperately clutching at the wooden coffin. Only young Feodosov, who had known and loved Jack and shared quarters with him, sheds a ray of warmth through the icy sleet. Kollontay speaks of the fine manhood and generous soul that was Jack. With painful sincerity she questions herself - did not John Reed succumb to the neglect of true comradeship . . .’

 1 March 1921
‘Many arrests are taking place. Groups of strikers surrounded by Tchekists, on their way to prison, are a common sight. Much indignation in the city. I hear that several unions have been liquidated and their active members turned over to the Tcheka. But proclamations continue to appear. The arbitrary stand of the authorities is having the effect of rousing reactionary tendencies. The situation is growing tense. Calls for the Utchredilka (Constituent Assembly) are being heard. A manifesto is circulating, signed by the “Socialist Workers of the Nevsky District,” openly attacking the Communist régime. “We know who is afraid of the Constituent Assembly,” it declares. “It is they who will no longer be able to rob us. Instead they will have to answer before the representatives of the people for their deceit, their thefts, and all their crimes.”

Zinoviev is alarmed; he has wired to Moscow for troops. The local garrison is said to be in sympathy with the strikers. Military from the provinces has been ordered to the city: special Communist regiments have already arrived. Extraordinary martial law has been declared today.’

2 March 1921
‘Most disquieting reports. Large strikes have broken out in Moscow. In the Astoria I heard today that armed conflicts have taken place near the Kremlin and blood has been shed. The Bolsheviki claim the coincidence of events in the two capitals as proof of a counter-revolutionary conspiracy.

It is said that Kronstadt sailors have come to the city to look into the cause of trouble. Impossible to tell fact from fiction. The absence of a public press encourages the wildest rumors. The official papers are discredited.’

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Copland watches Shostie

‘I watched Shostie while Lukas and Kabalevsky played a Haydn Symphony 4 hands. He loves music with a kind of innocent joy I have rarely seen in a famous composer. Music must have been a great solace to him in the tough days.’ This is the famous American composer Aaron Copland, born 120 years ago today, writing in a diary he kept while visiting the Soviet Union. Although there are ‘diaries’ mentioned in the inventory of Copland’s archive at the Library of Congress, it is only this diary that has ever been published.

Copland was born on 14 November 1900 in Brooklyn, New York, the youngest of five children in a Jewish family with a Lithuanian background. His father owned and ran a department store on Washington Avenue, with all the family working for it when they could. Copland attended attended Boys High School in Brooklyn, and developed an early interest in piano, being guided by an older sister. Throughout his teens he took piano lessons with Leopold Wolfsohn, deciding at the age of 15 to become a composer. He regularly attended music performances, and undertook formal lessons in various aspects of music, not least with Rubin Goldmark. His graduation piece was a three-movement piano sonata in a Romantic style. His interest in European music led him to study at Fontainebleau, where the French had set up a music school for Americans. There he came under the influence of the, by then, famous Nadia Boulanger.

After having studyied a variety of European composers while abroad, Copland made his way back to the US in the mid-1920s. He debuted Symphony for Organ and Orchestra in early 1925 with the New York Symphony Society under Walter Damrosch. Many works followed which would bring Copland national and international fame. He focused on music that could be identified as “American” in its scope, incorporating a range of styles, including jazz, folk and Latin American. Piano Variations (1930), The Dance Symphony (1930), El Salon Mexico (1935), A Lincoln Portrait (1942) and Fanfare for the Common Man (1942) are among his most well known compositions. He never married; biographers suggest he was gay and had love affairs with several men including Victor Kraft, artist Alvin Ross, pianist Paul Moor, and dancer Erik Johns.

In 1944, Copland composed the music for Martha Graham’s 1944 dance Appalachian Spring. The following year it won him the Pulitzer Prize. In 1949, he returned to Europe, where he met the new wave of avant-garde composers, like Pierre Boulez and Arnold Schoenberg. Adopting Schoenberg’s twelve-tone method of composition, he wrote Old American Songs, a first set of which which was premiered by Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten. In 1950, Copland received a Fulbright scholarship to study in Rome. During the 1951-1952 academic year, he gave a series of lectures at Harvard University, which he published soon after as Music and Imagination. During the first half of the 1950s, Copland was investigated by the FBI, and interviewed by Joseph McCarthy. However, the musical community promoted the patriotism of Copland’s music, and the investigations ceased in 1955.

Notable among Copland’s later works are the Piano Fantasy (1957), Connotations (1962), commissioned for the opening of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, and Inscape (1967). But, in general, his more avant-garde works were less well received, and after the 1970s he stopped composing, though he continued to lecture and to conduct through to the mid-1980s. Encyclopaedia Britannica has this assessment: ‘For the better part of four decades, as composer (of operas, ballets, orchestral music, band music, chamber music, choral music, and film scores), teacher, writer of books and articles on music, organizer of musical events, and a much sought after conductor, Copland expressed “the deepest reactions of the American consciousness to the American scene.” ’. He received more than 30 honorary degrees and many other awards. He died in 1990. Further information can also be found online at the official Aaron Copland website, Wikipedia,, and Library of Congress.

The Copland archive, at the Library of Congress, contains approximately 400,000 items, dating from 1910 to 1990. It includes his ‘music manuscripts, printed music, personal and business correspondence, diaries and writings, photographic materials, awards, honorary degrees, programmes, and other biographical materials’. Unfortunately, no further detail on the diaries is given (how many there are, from what periods of his life etc.). And though biographies of Copland mention his diaries very occasionally, it is only the brief day-to-day diary he kept during a four-week journey to the Soviet Union in early 1960 that has been published: in the Music Library Association’s journal, Notes  (vol. 70, no. 4, 2014) described and annotated by Kevin Bartig (available online at JSTOR).

According to Bartig, Copland was accompanied by Lucas Foss and visited the Soviet Union as a representative of the US State Department. He conducted and performed his own music, met with fellow composers and students, and distributed material on American music. The diary he kept is a considered by Bartig to be a rare day-to-day account of Cold War diplomatic work, and reveals how Cold War geopolitics mediated Copland’s musical evaluations.

Bartig, in his introduction, provides details of the trip and the diary: ‘In his initial entries, Copland, unlike most first-time visitors to the Soviet Union, barely mentions housing, transportation, or food. Although never loquacious as a diarist, he declared that “it would be easy to make hasty judgements” concerning Soviet life, presumably a reason to limit himself to musical observations. Copland summarized his experiences at the end of each day, usually relying on notes scribbled on scraps of paper during meetings and listening sessions. (Wherever possible, material from these notes has been included both in brief, explanatory passages between entries, and in the notes.)

The itinerary and concert programs were sketched out only after arrival, on the first full day of the tour. Both were subject to last-minute changes. For example, an article in the Moscow newspaper Izvestiia reported that Moscow audiences would hear Copland’s Third Symphony and suites from Appalachian Spring and The Tender Land, but only the symphony eventually appeared on a program. Likewise, Copland and Foss were to visit Kiev, but Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, was substituted at the last moment for unclear reasons. Copland and Foss likely spent their first days at the imposing Leningrad Hotel, where the 1958 delegation had lodged, eventually moving to the more centrally located Métropole Hotel. Throughout the tour, a translator accompanied the Americans; Foss dubbed her their “spy secretary,” a rather accurate description of such functionaries, who were to document their guests’ movements and reactions.’

Here are several excerpts.

24 March 1960
‘I have a cold. Damn! Lunch given for us at the Embassy by the Counsellor Minister, Mr. Freers. Present Khrenikoff, Kabalevsky, Shostie (with 2 wives). It transpired that Leeds [Music Corp.) pays publication rights for Soviet music and them nothing (so reports Khrennikov). They looked hopeless at the prospect of paying American publishers’ fees for performance. This spoils my idea of a depot for Amer[ican] music in Moscow, tho’ they claim the Union will collect a library of foreign music on their own. I stayed home in the evening and nursed my cold.’

25 March 1960
‘Dress rehearsal in the morning. Concert at night. Felt strange conducting the Soviet anthem and Star Spangled Banner side by side, TV camera glaring at me. Third Symphony went pretty well, with a fair reception. L.F. big hit as pianist. Shostie’s Ninth completed the program. At the end I presented him with honorary membership in the Nat[ional] Inst[itute] of Arts and Letters. Post-concert party at the Tuchs - no Russians accepted invitations, so we were consoled with foreign press people and Amb[assador] and Mrs. Lewellyn Thompson.’

26 March 1960
‘Visits from Soviet literature paper, Gregory Schneerson, and Mr. Leonidoff of N.Y.C. ballet. Lunch at the residence of the Indian Ambassador Mr. [K.P.S.] Menon. Visit to the Conservatory. Instead of students we were met by a group of professors, including Shaporin. We heard a talented oratorio by a young man called Albert [sic] Schnittke entitled Nagasaki. This allowed him a few grave dissonances (like the Hollywood writers might allow themselves with similar material). Also heard part of a ballet The Hunchback by S[h]chedrin and a Sinfoniett by Karamanov, neither of which were in any way interesting. A short discussion followed in which I suggested that Russian composers knew too well what style to work in. Disturbed reaction on the part of our listeners. I told them that listening to typical Russian music exclusively it would be hard for me to imagine all the other existing styles of contemporary music. In the evening a service intim[é] chez Shostakovitch. His wife and son Maxime, Kabalevsky and Khrennikov and their wives were there. (When I told Mrs. Khren[nikov] that she looked Scotch she replied: oh no, I’m Jewish.) Purely social evening - few toasts and Shostie in a relaxed and charming mood. Big and generous spread of food (all familiar items at our hotel) with shouts of Maxime (who looks at 20 like a young French intellectual) down the length of the table. I watched Shostie while Lukas and Kabalevsky played a Haydn Symphony 4 hands. He loves music with a kind of innocent joy I have rarely seen in a famous composer. Music must have been a great solace to him in the tough days. Much excitement about a chess tournament whose results were announced over the air. I was persuaded to play my Piano Sonata. At the end they all 3 said “Spasibo” (“thank you”) with no comment of any kind.’

30 March 1960
‘Rehearsal in the morning. Presented discs to the radio station, scores to a choral conductor, clar[inet] concerto to a clarinetist, etc. ’Tis thus we propagandize. Meeting at 5 with Composers’ Union of Latvia. Very well organized presentation of their music on tape with short fragments of works by younger men, Edmund Goldstein (1927) and [Romuald Grinblat] (1930) and older men Jacov Medina (18[90]) and Adolf [Skulte] (1909) teacher of most of the young composers. Top man seems to be Janis Ivanovs, composer of many works, including 9 symphonies. Saw little merit in his stuff, myself. They seemed genuinely interested in hearing some of our stuff. I gave them a taste of App[alachian] Spring and Lukas his Symphony of Chorales (2 mvts.) and Song of Songs (someone mentioned Hindemith, and unearthed his [Lukas’s] Berlin birth, with the usual innuendoes). Dashed off to hear two acts of Prokofieff’s The Duenna at the Riga Opera. One of his least inspired pieces in a creditable production.’

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Nazis are the misfortune

‘To keep the people from directing their rage at their actual oppressor, rulers in every age have used diversionary tactics to shield their own guilt. The entire action against the Jews was no different from throwing down a piece of meat for the beasts. “The Jews are our misfortune,” cry out the Nazis. The correct answer of the people would have been, “No, not the Jews, but the Nazis are the misfortune for the German people.” This is from a remarkable diary kept in secret by a middle-ranking German civil servant, Friedrich Kellner, during the Second World War. Kellner, who died 50 years ago today, left his diary to his grandson, but it was only published for the first time in German in 2011, and in English in 2018.

Kellner was born in Vaihingen an der Enz (then in the Kingdom of Württemberg in the German Empire, now in southern Germany), the only child of a baker and his wife, both evangelical Lutherans. When he was four, the family moved to Mainz so his father could take up an appointment as a master baker at a confectionary company. In 1902, on finishing school, he became a trainee in courthouse administration. The following year, he was employed as a junior clerk in the Mainz courthouse. In 1907-1908, he undertook military service. He married Pauline Preuss in 1913, and they had one son. With the onset of war in 1914, he was called up again, as a sergeant and deputy-officer, and saw active service. However, before long he was wounded and sent back to Mainz to recover. He spent the remainder of the war as a quartermaster secretary in Frankfurt am Main.

After the war, Kellner remained working for the courthouse, rising to justice inspector in 1920. He was also active as a political organiser for the local branch of the Social Democratic Party, often speaking out against the dangers of Communist and Nazi extremists. In the early 1930s, Kellner and his family moved to the village of Laubach in Hesse, where he worked as the chief justice inspector in the district court. In 1935 his son emigrated to the US to avoid military service; and in 1938, after Kellner had tried to bring charges against the leaders of a riot, his religious heritage was thoroughly investigated - the district judge, though, found it to be solidly Christian. Nevertheless, Kellner’s outspoken views kept him in the sights of the authorities who considered him a ‘bad influence’, and threatened him with being sent to a concentration camp.

After the war, Kellner was appointed deputy mayor of Laubach, and assisted with the task of removing former Nazis from positions of power in the area. He helped to resurrect the Social Democratic Party, and became the regional party chairman. He served as chief justice inspector and administrator of the Laubach courthouse until 1948, and was district auditor in the regional court in Giessen until his retirement in 1950. He continued to provide legal advisor in Laubach, and returned to local politics becoming deputy mayor until 1960. Thereafter, he continued as a volunteer legal advisor. His wife died in February 1970, and he died later the same year, on 4 November. Further information is available from Wikipedia.

Kellner is remembered today thanks to an extraordinary diary he kept from September 1939, when Hitler ordered the invasion of Poland, to May 1945. According to Wikipedia, he considered his diary a response to Hitler’s Mein Kampf, so he named his diary Mein Widerstand, meaning My Opposition. It comprises ten notebooks totaling 861 pages with some 676 dated entries. The handwriting is in the Sütterlin script, a style of German lettering no longer in use. It was first published - thanks to Kellner’s American grandson, Robert Scott Kellner - in Germany in 2011 as two volumes Vernebelt, verdunkelt sind alle Hirne, Tagebücher 1939-1945. This was translated by Robert Kellner, and published in English in 2018 by Cambridge University Press (single volume): My Opposition: The Diary of Friedrich Kellner - A German against the Third Reich. This can be previewed at Googlebooks, and further information can be read at History Extra, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and The Guardian. Some extracts can be read (in English and German) on these dedicated Kellner web pages.

Here are several extracts.

4 October 1939
‘We have been ordered to fly flags on the building for one week to mark the occasion of German troops entering Warsaw. Such gestures, I have to say, make no impression on the population. The people feel nothing now from all these “victories.” The breadbasket will be hung higher and out of reach, the portions will become smaller, and the struggle to obtain a ration card for doing an essential laundry - or purchasing a piece of clothing - is what really will stir up their blood. The situation is that these small things of daily life generally exert a substantial influence on the people’s mood. The artifice of “culture” cannot stand disturbances because people feel it immediately; the smallest change makes them think their way of life has been impaired. The higher the culture, the further away must be war.’

10 October 1939
‘To keep the people from directing their rage at their actual oppressor, rulers in every age have used diversionary tactics to shield their own guilt. The entire action against the Jews was no different from throwing down a piece of meat for the beasts. “The Jews are our misfortune,” cry out the Nazis. The correct answer of the people would have been, “No, not the Jews, but the Nazis are the misfortune for the German people.”

It is exactly the same today, except the drums now beat against the English. Every reasonable person knows that if we had behaved in a decent manner we could have achieved a satisfactory relationship with England, at least to some extent. Everything with us is weapons and shouts of war and continuous threats - with no suitable middle ground. The purpose is to intimidate the alleged or real opponent to want to be on good terms with us. But eternal saber rattling leads to one thing, and that is war.

The lack of good will on our side is clear to see from all of our propaganda. We take a spiteful swipe at the English at every single opportunity. I need only think of Palestine. At the same time we were throwing Jews out of Germany, we roused up the Arabs through radio and press to resist Jewish settlement. Is this a coherent foreign policy? This mania to make things more difficult for the English everywhere, and then to exult over it, makes us look ridiculous. [...]’

9 November 1939
‘At the Bürgerbräukeller beer hall in Munich yesterday, Hitler gave a speech to his Party members - the usual glorification of members of the “Movement” who were killed. The German government of 1923 failed to act decisively against this political movement, and so it must be said the 1923 government bears a huge responsibility for the graves in Germany. The NSDAP clearly showed at the beginning it intended to create a tremendous general disturbance. Every fanatic and every brutal egoist was accepted into its ranks with open arms: charmers, con men, convicted criminals, and murderers. Everyone against the government then, whether in words or with deeds, was called a revolutionary and held up as a “hero.” The worst sort of criminals, fools, and position seekers became known in time as the “Old Fighters,” whose self-glorification brought them into the highest government positions - or into important Party positions - with a virtuoso’s ease. Here they could be let loose on the unfortunate people. Today we are seized by a distinct sadness over the development of this terrible Party - today, when thinking itself has become dangerous [...].’ 

11 November 1939
‘The way the newspapers are howling furiously against England, blaming it for the explosion in the Munich Bürgerbräukeller, it is evident this incident will be fully used to stir up the flagging war mood. Without batting an eye and without the slightest proof, they make England the suspect in the attempted assassination of the Führer.

This affair will not be solved with presumptions and conjectures. One day the truth will become known, we hope.’

21 July 1940
‘Bad Salzhausen. As Pauline and I sat in front of the spa building, the Hellwig family greeted us. Herr Hellwig, a senior inspector in Mainz, believes the English will be totally beaten quickly, and after the war we will be in a very good position for natural resources because we occupy every country with raw materials. The worst sort of business-oriented politician, he sees his wheat in bloom. In former times he was a Social Democrat. Today, 250 percent Nazi.’

25 July 1941
‘The widow Frau Emmelius received news that her son August was killed. He is the first casualty from Laubach on the Eastern Front. Reports came today of other casualties: Philippi, Kammer, and von Eiff.

What I hear is August Emmelius was no Nazi. Naturally the respectable always have to die. The “most valuable” elements of the populace - Haas, Naumann, Haack, and other Party members - are still among the living.’