Friday, May 28, 2021

Rum in the Galapagos

Forty five years ago today, I celebrated my birthday - on the Galapagos Islands. I should have a diary entry for that day as well as for all the days in the two months that I’d been travelling in South America, only my journal was in a bag that was stolen some weeks later. This lost diary is, in fact, the only significant break in my adult diaries, otherwise running from 1974 to the present day. Nevertheless, I have a few diary-like letters (sent to family and friends) which go some way to filling in that gap. Here is one covering not only my rum-infused birthday on the Galapagos Islands (28 May 1976), but my being laid low by hepatitis.

10 June 1976
‘[Lima] I am laid up with hepatitis. To start at the beginning I had odd days on the Galapagos Islands when I felt completely wiped out for some reason. When I got back to Ecuador I took a long ride through the night to the mountain city where I had left some possessions. On the way I felt very tired, terrible sometimes. I was with friends who had had hepatitis but they weren’t sure about my symptoms. I decided to head for Lima in the night - two nights and a day of bussing constantly. I would normally have stopped at many places and probably hitchhiked and taken a week to get here, but I felt the need to be in a big city. When I got there, I went first to the British Embassy to get my letters. They told me of a hospital which was expensive but clean. It was a long way away, and once there I had to wait a long time. But a doctor confirmed I had hepatitis. He said I must stay in bed for at least two weeks. No walking, no alcohol, no chocolate, little grease, lots and lots of rest.

It was terribly depressing to walk out of that hospital in a completely strange city, having been told that I must not walk but must stay in bed for weeks or else it will get worse. What to do, where to go, I had no idea. I am not sure if my insurance will pay for the accommodation and food while I am laid up, but I have assumed so and am staying at a hotel three times more expensive than my norm. It has a little cafe where I can eat most of my meals, so I won’t have to walk too far.

So it is Thursday 10 June. I sit in the little cafe on the first morning of my self-imposed rest. Ironically, I feel very well, but I am pissed off beyond all measure. It would help if I a friend who could get me odd bits and pieces from the shops. My books are all read. I’m told hepatitis sometimes lasts for months, but, because I feel good, I am hoping that a week of rest will be sufficient. Even a week without reading material will drive me crazy.

I do know a young guy who lives in Lima. I met him for a few days in Panama. I will ring him today. Also I’m expecting other friends to be travelling through Lima soon. I just hope I can contact them. Any way there is no need to worry, I’m looking after myself and resting against my nature. And I have faith that it is only a mild attack - and in 10 days I’ll be fitter than a lion.

I did get to the Galapagos Islands which was something else. As I may have mentioned it is very expensive for foreigners to go there: the aeroplane ticket is more than twice as expensive than it is for Ecuadorians. There is also a cruise, but the cheapest is $250. I spent a restless night or two deciding that it was not worth it for that price; and then I decided to hassle around looking for a cheap way to get there. I went to the worst and largest city in Ecuador, Guayaquil, and investigated various possibilities: the navy, the air force, different cruises, cargo boats. Dejected and beaten I tried one last thing. I went to loads of different travel agent until I found one that didn’t seem to know about the tourist law. Keeping very cool and doing things very carefully I managed to get an Ecuadorian return air ticket for $65 as opposed to a tourist ticket for $145. Both going and returning I had frightening moments as my ticket was checked (thinking the mismatch between the ticket and my obvious appearance as a tourist would get me into trouble), but it was fine.

It’s expensive on the islands too. To get the best deal one has to hire a boat, to cruise round the island, and fill it with eight people. It is a very touristy scene, but nothing can be done about it. I spent one week in the main settlement (it’s full of characters from all over the world) waiting for people to fill a boat, and the other week travelling around the islands. They are all tips of volcanoes, sticking out of the sea, some old, and some new just 100 years old (a mass of cracked black lava). There is a lot of beautiful emptiness, but of course the main attraction is the wildlife that is not so wild.

Sitting in the little port of the main village I saw the following: a pelican or two sitting on a post fishing, a heron (a giant blue one) doing nothing, lots of 2-3ft long marine iguanas crawling around the rocks, thousands of little lizards, mocking birds that will land on you, lots of beautiful fish in the clear water, and a seal. Around the islands, I saw: thousands of sea lions and seals all without fear of humans (one can swim with them), penguins, fearless land iguanas up to 4ft long (landing on their island these enormous lizards come trundling down to meet you), hawks and doves that come within two feet of you, and flamingoes. On the boat trip we ate only fresh meat killed the same day: goat, tuna, durado (white fish), lobster and crab. And, of course there are the giant tortoises - enormous things. They are threatened by the introduced animals like the rat and goat, and are therefore being cared for and protected by the research stations where one can see them at all stages of their life.

Heh, I’m 24, how about that. I’ve never been 24 before. We had a little celebration in the Galapagos. The Islands had run out of beer so we got drunk on rum.’

Friday, May 21, 2021

A Pole in America

Today marks 180 years since the death of Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz, a great Polish patriot and writer. Having been active in politics during years of turbulence while Poland was trying to establish itself as a state, he found himself imprisoned, but then exiled himself to the US for several years. Although a regular diarist, only the diaries of his travels in America have been published in English. These are said to be among ‘the earliest and most important documents in the complex, fascinating and still largely unexplored story of American-Polish cultural relations’.

Niemcewicz was born in 1757/58 into a noble family established for generations near Brest in the Lithuanian part of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He was educated at the School for Knights in Warsaw, founded by the King, and the only lay school in Poland, before being taken as an assistant by Prince Czartoryski (who later became one of the leading advocates for the Polish national cause). Niemcewicz travelled widely with the Prince; and in addition to writing poetry and travel books, he undertook translations into Polish from French. In 1788, he became deputy in the lower house of the Polish parliament, and was an active member of the Patriotic Party, known for his speaking ability, that pushed through a new constitution in 1791.

Thereafter, Niemcewicz took part in the insurrection of 1794, but was captured at Maciejowice and imprisoned in St Petersburg for two years. On his release, he went first to England and then to the US, where he married and settled. He moved in high circles during this time, and was even a guest of George Washington. In 1807, he returned to live in Poland. Thereafter, he held no public position, and focused on his literary endeavours - his first popular writing success had come in 1790 with the political comedy The Return of the Deputy. His later publications included translations from the English, Polish songs (his famous Historical Songs), and novels such as John of Tenczyn (1825).

In 1831, Niemcewicz travelled to London where, with Napoleon’s son, he tried, unsuccessfully, to win military support for a Polish insurrection against Russia. He spent the last years of his life in Paris, campaigning for Polish freedom. He died on 21 May 1841. Further information is available from Wikipedia and the Virtual Library of Polish Theatre.

Although it seems there are various published versions of Niemcewicz’s diaries, there is only one that has appeared in English, translated/edited by Metchie J E Budka, and published by The Grassman Publishing Company, New Jersey, in 1965: Under Their Vine and Fig Tree. Travels through America in 1797-1799, 1805, with some further account of life in New Jersey.

‘Niemcewicz’s American diaries are one of the earliest and most important documents in the complex, fascinating and still largely unexplored story of American-Polish cultural relations,’ Wiktor Weintraub begins in his Preface. ‘But [they] are interesting also in their own right, outside the framework of American-Polish relations. If there ever existed a perfect extrovert, Niemcewicz was one. He travelled widely, by eighteenth century standards, had tremendous gusto for life and a keen eye for life’s minutiae. Everything interested him: the prices of foodstuffs, the conditions of prisons, specific fauna and flora of particular regions, good, or not so good, looks of ladies - the reader of the diaries would hardly guess that in this respect he was far from being a disinterested observer only - good, or bad, manners of children, the political climate of the country, the state of the roads. Mostly on the move, always intellectually alert, curious about people, he had a great capacity for absorbing data. Thus, the diaries form an amusing, richly detailed, variegated, if not especially deep, chronicle of the American life by the end of the eighteenth century.’

‘Until recently,’ Weintraub continues, ‘only parts of the text of the diaries were known, and the manuscript was considered to be lost. The Polish edition of the whole preserved text, with its French parts in Polish translation, appeared as late as 1959. The work on the present edition was started independently, at an earlier date. . . [Dr Budka’s] translation, for being careful, manages to recapture the easy grace, the abandon of Niemcewicz’s Polish and French jotting, and, thus, enables the reader to enjoy the diaries as good reading stuff.’

Here is one extract in which Niemcewicz meets the American president.

8 November 1797

I found all the inhabitants of the town busy in preparing the reception and dinner for Mr John Adams, President of the United States. The cool heads, and the methodical manners of these solemn Americans lead them to go about their business of a dinner with the same rules that they use in discussing affairs of State. A committee was appointed to arrange the dinner and a President and a Vice-President to maintain good order at the table and to receive the chief magistrate. Many evenings were spent on arranging this important affair. Finally Mr Adams arrived, but two hours before the appointed time. Nothing was ready. Immediately, the militia, both mounted and on foot, ran about the streets; the authorities put their wigs on askew; the elegants arrived with their shoes half buckled. The cannon fired a half [hour] after Mr Adams was already well warmed at the fire-place. Little by little everyone settled down and took breath. At one o’clock I was presented to Mr Adams. He was sitting, reading a newspaper, facing the fireplace with Mr Malcolm, a young man 20 years old, his private secretary. I saw a dumpy little man dressed wholly in gray, well-powdered hair and a long pigtail. His face appeared to me that of a good and honest man, touched nevertheless with a grain of a malice. He received me civilly, asked me news of Gl Kosciuszko and then Mar. La Fayette. I passed then into a room opposite and I found there the true counterpart of Mr Adams. It was his wife. Small, short and squat, she is accused of a horrible crime. It is said she puts on rouge. What is certain is that if her manner is not the most affable, her mind is well balanced and cultivated. She was accompanied only by a niece and a maidservant.

At two o’clock Cl Neilson, elected President of the whole ceremony, accompanied Gl White and all the citizens entered into the President’s room. Mr Neilson in the name of all the inhabitants read an address conceived in a style filled with expressions of attachment for the Constitution and the leading public officials. Mr Adams read his response, he spoke to some, shook the hand of all, and then he departed. At three o’clock the same ceremony to invite him to go into the dining hall. He made his way there through the ranks of citizens and thirty of the militia in uniform who lined his path. They saluted him by lowering flags. The table was set for 60 people. Rost-beef, turkeys, Pays [pies?], etc, were served in profusion.

In the middle of the dinner Mr Goss, a man 6 feet tall, over 70 years old, tanner by trade and prattler by habit, got up from the other end of the table, came to the side where the President was, displaced Gl White, who was seated beside him, sat down there himself and occupied his attention with the most coarse and silly tales possible. The good President laughed, then considering his enormous height said to him, “You should have been born in the states of the King of Prussia. You would have been the ornament of his guards.” “Would I have been the second in his kingdom, I would not wish to have been born there,” the tanner said to him. “Nor I,” answered the President “would I have been the first.” ’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 21 May 2011.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

A Carnap gold mine!

Rudolf Carnap, one of the central figures of 20th century philosophy, was born 130 years ago today. He was the leading exponent of what is called logical positivism or logical empiricism and helped found the idea of a philosophy of science. Born in Germany, he emigrated to the United States in the mid-1930s. Throughout his life he kept shorthand diaries. Recently, many of these have been made freely available online as series of digital images, and some of them have also been transcribed (but only in German). André Carus, an academic philosopher who runs a Carnap blog, has called the diaries ‘a Carnap gold mine!’ None of the diary material, though, has yet appeared in English.

Carnap was born on 18 May 1891 in the small town of Ronsdorf, now part of Wuppertal, an industrial city near the Ruhr area of northwest Germany. His mother was a teacher, and his father owned a ribbon-making factory. He was educated at home before secondary school years, and, in 1908, he moved with his family to Jena, to live with his uncle, Friedrich Wilhelm Dörpfeld, a well-known and highly influential archaeologist. He attended Jena university to study philosophy, physics, and mathematics, and was drawn to Gottlob Frege’s courses in mathematical logic. He was an enthusiastic member of the Youth Movement then sweeping Germany, and became one of its local representatives. Although opposed on moral and political grounds to the war, he felt obliged to serve in the army. After three years he was given permission to study at the University of Berlin (1917-1918) where Albert Einstein was a newly appointed professor. 

Returning to the University of Jena, he wrote a thesis defining an axiomatic theory of space and time but it pleased neither the physics or philosophy departments, so he wrote another on the theory of space in a more orthodox Kantian style. This was published in 1921 as Der Raum (Space). For several years he continued his researches in logic and the foundations of physics and wrote a number of essays on problems of space, time, and causality, as well as a textbook, Abriss der Logistik, on symbolic logic. In 1926, he was invited by Moritz Schlick, the founder of the Vienna Circle to join the faculty of the University of Vienna, where he soon became an influential member. Initial ideas of logical positivism, or logical empiricism emerged from discussions within the Circle, as they sought to develop a scientific world view through bringing the precision of the exact sciences to philosophical inquiry.

Carnap and his associates established close connections with scholars in other countries, among them a group of empiricists in Berlin under Hans Reichenbach. Carnap and Reichenbach founded a periodical, Erkenntnis as a forum for the new ‘scientific philosophy’. In 1928, came Carnap’s first major work Der logische Aufbau der Welt (The Logical Structure of the World). From 1931 to 1935, he was professor of natural philosophy at the German University in Prague, where he developed a more liberal version of empiricism, elaborated in his essay Testability and Meaning.

In 1935, Carnap emigrated to the US (becoming a naturalised citizen in 1941) and took up a post as professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago, where he remained mostly until 1952 (1939-1941 was spent at Harvard University). He wrote books on semantics, modal logic, and on the philosophical foundations of probability and inductive logic. After a stint at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, he joined the UCLA Department of Philosophy in 1954. He worked on scientific knowledge, the analytic–synthetic distinction, and the verification principle. Other writings on thermodynamics, and on the foundations of probability and inductive logic, were published after his death in 1970. He was married twice, having four children by his first marriage to Elizabeth Schöndube, and marrying his second wife, Elizabeth Ina Stöger, in 1933. Further information is available at Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy or the Internet Encyclopadia of Philosophy.

Carnap kept diaries for much of his life, in German and using a shorthand. They are held with a large collection of other material (donated by Carnap’s daughter in 1974) in the Carnap Papers at the ULS Archives & Special Collections at the University of Pittsburgh. The diaries cover a long period, from 1911 to 1969. A full list is available online with links to the digital images of many, if not most, of the diaries. According to the inventory, transcripts of the diary images are pending and will be put online soon.

Indeed, work has been under way for sometime to produce a working draft of the diaries up to 1935. Brigitta Arden and Brigitte Parakenings have been transcribing them in collaboration with Christian Damböck’s research project Historical-Critical Edition of Sources from the Nachlass of Rudolf Carnap. The initial result is available as a pdf here, but, as the authors state, the text comes with a warning that it must not be cited - there is no introduction, no editorial report, no index of abbreviations, only sketchy annotations, a fragmentary index etc. 

Here is a short bit about the project from an article (entitled Carnap gold mine!) written by André Carus, a philosopher (Munich Centre for Mathematical Philosophy) who runs a Carnap blog,

‘Thanks to Christian Damböck, who has a multi-year grant for this purpose from the Austrian government, Carnap’s diaries (up to 1935) - long inaccessible, and only recently open to the public - have now all been transcribed from Carnap’s Stolze-Schrey shorthand. [. . .] Carnap’s shorthand is not just a standard off-the-shelf system. It is based on Stolze-Schrey, but he used hundreds of personalized abbreviations of his own, which can only be learned by long experience of trial and error. So learning to read it is hard, and I have to admit that even after a lot of practice, I find it slow going. I’ve had a look at some of these diaries in shorthand, and they are often hard to puzzle out. Even with the occasional gap here and there I’m very impressed at the thoroughness and completeness of the job the transcribers have done.’

Saturday, May 1, 2021

The Great Exhibition

Today marks the 170th anniversary of the opening, by Queen Victoria, of the Great Exhibition held in Hyde Park, London, in 1851. It was the first international expo of its type, and was notable, among other things, for being housed in the Crystal Palace. Prince Albert was much involved in planning the exhibition, and the Queen, in her diary entry for the opening day, applauds him highly for the exhibition’s success.

The Great Exhibition, officially called the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations, took place in Hyde Park, London, from 1 May to 15 October 1851. Prince Albert was heavily involved with the organisation, as was Henry Cole, a civil servant and inventor best known for introducing Christmas cards.

In the late 1840s, Cole, with Prince Albert’s backing, won a royal charter for the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, and organised several exhibitions for celebrating modern industrial technology. Soon, though, he perceived the possibility of opening a future exhibition to international participants. Queen Victoria approved a Royal Commission, under the presidency of Prince Albert, to manage such a project for 1851.

The Crystal Palace, designed by Joseph Paxton drawing on his experience of building greenhouses for the sixth Duke of Devonshire, was constructed to house the exhibition. (It was later moved to Sydenham in south London, an area which became known as Crystal Palace. The building itself, though, was destroyed by fire in 1936.) Some six million people visited the Great Exhibition and it was deemed a huge success, not least financially with the profits being used to found the now-famous Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum.

Here is an extract from Queen Victoria’s diary for the day of the opening, freely available on a website dedicated to her journals. (See also The crown hurt me.)

1 May 1851
‘This day is one of the greatest and most glorious days of our lives, with which, to my pride and joy the name of my dearly beloved Albert is forever associated! It is a day which makes my heart swell with thankfulness ... The Park presented a wonderful spectacle, crowds streaming though it - carriages and troops passing, quite like the Coronation Day, and for me, the same anxiety. The day was bright, and all bustle and excitement. At half past 11, the whole procession in 9 state carriages was set in motion. Vicky and Bertie were in our carriage. Vicky was dressed in lace over white satin, with a small wreath of pink wild roses, in her hair, and looked very nice. Bertie was in full Highland dress. The Green Park and Hyde Park were one mass of densely crowded human beings, in the highest good humour and most enthusiastic. I never saw Hyde Park look as it did, being filled with crowds as far as the eye could reach. A little rain fell, just as we started; but before we neared the Crystal Palace, the sun shone and gleamed upon the gigantic edifice, upon which the flags of every nation were flying.

We drove up Rotten Row and got out of our carriages at the entrance on that side. The glimpse through the iron gates of the Transept, the moving palms and flowers, the myriads of people filling the galleries and seats around, together with the flourish of trumpets, as we entered the building, gave a sensation I shall never forget, and I felt much moved ... In a few seconds we proceeded, Albert leading me having Vicky at his hand, and Bertie holding mine. The sight as we came to the centre where the steps and chair (on which I did not sit) was placed, facing the beautiful crystal fountain was magic and impressive. The tremendous cheering, the joy expressed in every face, the vastness of the building, with all its decorations and exhibits, the sound of the organ (with 200 instruments and 600 voices, which seemed nothing), and my beloved Husband the creator of this great ‘Peace Festival’, uniting the industry and arts of all nations of the earth, all this, was indeed moving, and a day to live forever. God bless my dearest Albert, and my dear Country which has shown itself so great today ... The Nave was full of people, which had not been intended and deafening cheers and waving of handkerchiefs, continued the whole time of our long walk from one end of the building, to the other. Every face was bright, and smiling, and many even had tears in their eyes ... One could of course see nothing, but what was high up in the Nave, and nothing in the Courts. The organs were but little heard, but the Military Band, at one end, had a very fine effect ...

We returned to our place and Albert told Lord Breadalbane to declare the Exhibition opened, which he did in a loud voice saying “Her Majesty commands me to declare the Exhibition opened”, when there was a flourish of trumpets, followed by immense cheering. Everyone was astounded and delighted. The return was equally satisfactory - the crowd most enthusiastic and perfect order kept. We reached the Palace at 20 minutes past 1 and went out on the balcony, being loudly cheered. That we felt happy and thankful, - I need not say - proud of all that had passed and of my beloved one’s success. Dearest Albert’s name is for ever immortalised and the absurd reports of dangers of every kind and sort, set about by a set of people, - the ‘soi-disant’ fashionables and the most violent protectionists - are silenced. It is therefore doubly satisfactory that all should have gone off so well, and without the slightest accident or mishap.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 1 May 2011.