Thursday, August 19, 2021

Day of disasters

‘Sunny, spring-like day. Day of disasters. This morning I read the fax that Gemini Films sent me, in which they communicate me the changes of the script, script that had already been accepted and paid in part and with its production running. The changes asked and done already by Rushdie are purely and simply the totality of the film. His attitude can be summed up in the next proposition: remove me from the project. None of my ideas of misé-en-scene is considered acceptable.’ This is from the diaries of the celebrated Chilean filmmaker, Raoul Ruiz, who died a decade ago today. Ruiz’s diaries were published posthumously, in 2017, and since then a Chilean film writer - Jaime Grijalba - has been translating entries from the diaries into English and making them freely available online.

Ruiz was born in 1941, the son of a ship’s captain and a schoolteacher in Puerto Montt, Chile, though his family soon moved to Santiago. Already as a teenager, he was involved with the theatre. At university he began law and theology studies, but abandoned them in favour of working in television, at first directing sports programmes. In 1964, he took a film course in Argentina, thereafter making several political films. He is said to have written 100 plays for the avant grade theatre in his 20s. His feature film, Three Sad Tigers, won him (and one other) the Golden Leopard at the 1969 Locarno Film Festival. In 1973, shortly after the military coup led by Augusto Pinochet, Ruiz and his wife (Valeria Sarmiento, also a film director) fled Chile and settled in Paris.

There followed a productive period for Ruiz with what IMDB calls ‘surrealistic masterpieces’ - Three Crowns of the Sailor (1983), City of Pirates (1983) and Manuel on the Island of Wonders (1984) ‘perversely yet charmingly addressing the recurring Ruizian themes of childhood, exile, and maritime and rural folklore’. In the 1990s, the IMDB profile continues, ‘Ruiz embarked on larger projects with prominent actors such as John Hurt, Marcello Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert and John Malkovich, alternating this sporadic mainstream art-house endeavour with his usual low-budget experimental productions and the teaching of his Poetics of Cinema (two volumes of which he published in 1995 and 2007)’.

In the last years of his life, Ruiz wrote and directed several low-budget productions in his native Chile, but his final international success was the Franco-Portuguese epic Mysteries of Lisbon (2010). He died on 19 August 2011. IMDB concludes; ‘He is little-known in his native Chile, however, despite having made the widely seen Little White Dove (1973), receiving several major arts prizes and having a National Day of Mourning dedicated to him on the day of his burial there. In the English-speaking world, only a handful of [his] films have been distributed and it is on these few films that his reputation there is built.’ Further information is also available at Wikipedia.

Some of Ruiz’s diary entries were published in 2017 (in Spanish) by Ediciones Universidad Diego Portales as Diario. Notas, recuerdos y secuencias de cosas vistas (in Spanish) with selection, editing and prologue by Bruno Cuneo.

Thanks to Jaime Grijalba - a Chilean who says of himself ‘I try to direct films, but in the meantime I just write about them - a wealth of Ruiz’s diary entries have been translated into English and made freely available online at The Ruiz Diaries.  Here is Grijalba’s introductory note: Hey! Welcome! I’ll be translating the Raúl Ruizdiaries for as long as the copyright people will get to me and sue my ass. In the meantime, enjoy, and if you think that I’m doing a good work with these translations, give up a tip at My Kofi it really helps a lot!’ He posted the first entry from Ruiz’s diary (21 November 1993) in February 2018 and is currently (i.e. in August 2021) posting entries from March 2001. 

Here are several of Grijalba’s translated entries from Ruiz’s diary.

22 November 1993
‘In flight to Lisbon. We ended yesterday’s night watching videos of Portuguese melodramas: Fado, with Amalia Rodrigues, and a cop flick by Ladislao Vadja (Marcelino pan y vino). Later I dined with the poet neighbor Waldo Rojas and Ely [Godoy-Rojas]. They come from a vernissage of Latin American artists. Euphoria and coldness. One hour before, brief meeting with Jean Diard to prepare an agitation plan. It’s about putting in contact, through his Confluences cultural center, various filmmakers from the neighborhood. There’s more every day. I’ve crossed paths with Chantal Akerman, with Alain Fleischer and lots of actors. With Jean Lefaux we’re putting together a triennial to organize a Film Without Qualities Festival and a Workshop (one month per year).

Valeria prepares a roast beef accompanied with a méli-mélo de champignons [-], the whole thing united with truffle oil. Irregular wine, but coherent. Then we screened half hour of The Secret Journey, that I finished mixing four days ago. Watchable. I think it’s tighter, more asciutto, than in the first watch. The neighbors don’t stop making commentaries, as if they were watching a vacation film. It’s true that what I’ve been doing lately, in the way that it maintains itself in secret, has lost all prestige, tends to be a home movie. But it’s watchable anyway.

Even later extremely boring nightmares and towards six in the morning it’s the time to calendar. I watch the entirety the scene in the cabaret in which Ninon, according to the script, dances a torrid dance. In fact it’s not such a bad idea to make her enter covered in a tulle and make her spin like a dervish, getting naked, but spinning and covering herself again when she’s about to get naked. Meanwhile, the audience at the cabaret watches distracted, without stopping their conversations. The kids drink soup and our protagonists don’t stop disputing with each other. It seems more a South American than a Portuguese bar, but, anyway! Portugal has always been for me a bridge and a substitute. The European body of the kingdom of Chile. At liftoff, the plane left the track, but managed to brake. Excellent pretext to drink a whisky.

Reading or re-reading The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by J. Hogg. It should be the film that I’ll make next year around this time. Three days ago we worked with Jérôme Prieur, who wrote the prologue of the Marabout edition. I don’t know what to think. From Ian Christie to Françoise Dumas, more than twenty friends try to convince me that I adapt this Neo Gothic novel that I like and gives me ideas for other films, but I’m not sure that the novel itself lends itself for a filmed recreation. There are true moments of madness and I feel images coming of hilarious cruelty, but, like The Man Who Was Thursday by Chesterton, I feel that these novels work more as fans than as vacuum cleaners. They scatter and impregnate, but in themselves they aren’t idea magnets. But I could be wrong. In any case we’ve convened to place it in 1830’s France and end it towards the end of the XIX century with the discovery of the justified sinner, suspended, frozen in a glacier.

This sudden association with E. A. Poe has me in a good mood. It’s strange the way in which fictions associate to generate filmable images: La chouette aveugle by Hedayat didn’t summon (although it did discover) imagery, but the contact with El condenado por desconfiado by Tirso de Molina was enough for it to secrete audiovisual figures of enormous potency. In 40 minutes we shall land. Enough time for a cognac and to take a nap.

Later. In the neighborhood of Graça, waiting for André Gomes, actor and plastic artist. The whole afternoon studying the work plan, which is quite tight. Some streets are missing. The rest is all chosen already. I think it’s the first time that a production is this advanced. Yes, I think it’s the first time. I still feel that I’m not prepared the same. What’s missing above all is a coherent way to organize the shots. I’m trying to follow species of the spiral kind from right to left or alternating details and wide shots. Something to hold onto. And, of course, I keep avoiding eroticism. And I wrote the script (like the one for Three Crowns of the Sailor) coming out of the hospital and a urgent desire to fuck, doubled this time by the generous effect of a treatment with vitamin E.

From the window of the hotel (the same room I had while prepping Three Crowns of the Sailor) you can see the Castle and the river. Intriguing twilight. It stopped raining. Lots of transparency. But I want fog. But I want to work with a lot of diffusers. Women’s stockings, 30’s silk breeches (today’s don’t filter the same, the supplementary nylon or the treatment of the silk gives it a stupid multicolored and sweetened effect). Anyway. The eroticism reemerges where one least expects it.’

26 July 2000
‘Yesterday I worked two hours in the morning shooting objects, specially chairs: wood with wood: the chair on the wooden floor next to a piece of firewood and a match that burns and putters out. Then I went to have lunch with Luis Villamán. It was my birthday and his was on Monday, so we celebrated it as single men. Then I went back home, took a nap and I was reading until 5 pm, in which I started to work with Andrés. We examined some exercises and then we talked about theory and we started to shoot. He’s quick and had a couple of interesting ideas. At 7 pm the Rojas’, Jorge and Catherine came and we went to celebrate my birthday at a Chinese restaurant (Pacifique). I went to bed at 1 am. At 8 am I got up and I spent the entire morning editing Déclaration d’intention. At 12.30 hrs. I went to have lunch with the girl they’re proposing me as coach for Laetitia. Then I went to buy some books.’

11 March 2001
‘Cloudy and rainy. Yesterday I had lunch with Collin and we worked the whole afternoon (until 16.30 hrs.) with Stéphane. We finished the analytical read. The first, because many will come. Then a nap and reading of Schehadé. I read the second act and immediately some pages of Hebdromadaires by Prévert, a series of ramblings on this world and the other. Generous and stimulating. I dined with Gilbert and Leonardo, who mechanically insists in making me work on Dorian Gray and is still deaf to my explanations, which are simple. I’m under contract (“word contract”, the worst of all) with Paulo. I returned at 12. I saw a bit of television, a local soccer match. Soccer is still the only interesting thing among the live TV shows. I’ll spend the morning reading and taking notes and hearing (more than listening) music by Berg and Max Reger: from melancholy, melancholy and a half. I’ll have lunch with the Rojas’ couple and Andrés. Then I hope to work some, unless the heaviness leads me to lay down on bed.’

13 March 2001
‘Cloudy and fatal. Yesterday I started a new experience: a parallel carnet. As if someone said, a light way of leading a double life. And who says double says triple: I bought a third carnet (made of leather, in homage to [-]).

Last night I woke up at 2 am and I started to read the Hebdromadaire, the conversations with Prévert: “ ‘Are the sages of interest to you?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because I’m ignorant.’ ‘What it’s for you to be ignorant?’ ‘I ignore it.’ “. And adds: “Maybe the ignorant ignores what he knows and the sage knows what it is that he ignores”. Last night the semi-insomnia was provoked by the fear of filling the sound bar too much, to charge of commentaries without knowing much le comment dire.

During the mixing Sergio Castilla called from Chile, pleading me to not use for my film the Delora nº 3 by Leng (or that I use it but that I stop using it). I don’t know how he got the number of the mixing room.

Second day of mixing. It rains. I’ll go at noon to give a look (again) to the old book shops. I keep searching for Le chant de l’equipage by Mac Orlan. I started to leaf through Claude Farrère. Hesitating if entering or not in the meanders of Thomas de Quincey: “The bad fortune wheel”. It only takes three lines to bring up the despair and the desire to die. I can’t manage to concentrate on the Chilean film, which is approaching me quickly and menacingly. I have to pay the phone.

Curious to write on top of the wrinkles of the paper (which seems to turn eloquent to us as it fills with signs, as it a second writing would fight to emerge and impose itself).

11.10 hrs.
Some images for Cofralandes: series of interiors that culminate via approaching into detail shots (an object), that takes us to another interior, until that from detail to detail we find ourselves in a garbage dump (or in a store) in which all the objects seen in the other interiors can be seen. Each object tells its story. Stories of a salt shaker: salt flats, salaries, rites of the salt. Ashtray: same.

19.30 hrs. Back to the mixing. We’re in the third reel. I had lunch with Lucho Villamán, who’s preparing for his trip to Chile. I waver between preparing something to eat or go to a restaurant. But without means to talk it’s almost preferred to stay at home. To read and write.

Each day I give a step more towards my novels. I decided to finish Jamaica Inn, but I’ll need another title and I can’t find it.

Finally it’s nice to write on this paper. Permanent sensation of writing a palimpsest (is it written like that?).

I bought Positif. Articles on the documentary. I guess they’ll say something that isn’t the usual common ground. Picabia: “L’art est le culte de l’erreur”. And Gauguin: “Quand l’Ètat s’en mêle, il finit bien les choses”.

How to make a film that isn’t poetic art.

I started the reading of The Prince of Fools by Gérard de Nerval. The only that I don’t manage to do is go to the cinema. I don’t have a way to complaint that people don’t go to see my films. In fact, I don’t complain. Tomorrow I’ll do an effort and I’ll go see Traffic, to see Benicio del Toro act, to whom Paulo proposed the main role in The Ground Beneath Her Feet.

I saw on TV, in Actors Studio, an interview with Stanley Donen. Always surprising the simplicity and brutality of the American formulas. The ideal of our time: formulas so simple that they turn mysterious. “Encore une fois: le prince des sots”. May it be.

21.15 hrs. What is a novel? What is a film? What is art? To ask Serge Daney what is at this point. It isn’t, but what is a not Daney? A common French? The French mediocrity. No, nothing. Good, we’ll see. All that is see is not novel. What is novelated is what it’s told as revealed. On the account of what? Say it, Vaché.

At this point I’m little by little recovering the library of Paul de René that was burnt by the Nazis and a from which a few copies are left. All with the same kind of filling.

It seems that Pinochet will be judged for concealment. “Concealment”, the word that perfectly fits Chile. Country of concealment. Lost between absolutes and tales (see Lulio).

I have to do something with my books that isn’t burning them... Or sell them and win money, which would be worse. But so much ungrateful complaining.

The next week I travel to Chile (I said Chile: I travel to Cuba, where Valeria is, which, in this world, is my wife). Well. Tonight readings and leisure. Some red wine and [-] unreasonable.’

17 March 2001
‘Sunny, spring-like day. Day of disasters. This morning I read the fax that Gemini Films sent me, in which they communicate me the changes of the script, script that had already been accepted and paid in part and with its production running. The changes asked and done already by Rushdie are purely and simply the totality of the film. His attitude can be summed up in the next proposition: remove me from the project. None of my ideas of misé-en-scene is considered acceptable. I’m almost sure that they’ve given the script to read to what they call a “doctor”, a specialist in dramatic construction. This for the project is the flatness, we’re at the starting point.

I tried to expel the disaster dedicating myself to make the tax declaration and it’s a horror what I’ve earned and spent, essentially inviting friends to eat. I foresee a less friendly and very lonely future. More meals at home. Patience. Then an urgent fax from Hong Kong came asking me for the list of subtitles of Three Crowns of the Sailor, which I made nineteen years ago. Everywhere asking me for this and that, colloquia and nonsense. On the other hand, Comedy of Innocence is what they call a serious failure (90-something thousand tickets: honorable, but small).

Well, yesterday we were feasting in a restaurant the almost end of the mixing (reel 6, only one left). Yesterday the meeting of the Circle was a serious failure because Gérard was missing, who was in a police station, where his son had been jailed, who was protesting for the rights of the African immigrants. We did anyway a  schedule for the magazine. Some good ideas.

The day of all catastrophes. Salman Rushdie communicates through his agent that he wants to change all the scenes of the script to transform it into “the great popular success that we all want” (we all want?) Then, the always ingrate task of declaring taxes. I’m at the Flore waiting, hopeless, for Paulo, from whom I got a somewhat confusing message saying that he’ll be at the Flore between 12.00 and 13.00 hrs.’

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Enjoy thy existence

‘Another day, another revolution of light and shade. Enjoy thy existence, sayest thou, holy dawn of morning, animating glance of love, beam of God! Thou wakest me once more from my darkness, givest me a day, a new existence, a little life.’ So begins a short diary kept by the Swedish writer and feminist reformer Fredrika Bremer, born 220 years ago today.  Although this diary and some entries from a childhood diary have been translated and published in English, most of Bremer’s autobiographical writing was published in the form of letters and travelogues.

Bremer was born on 17 August 1801 near Åbo, Sweden (now Turku, Finland), the second daughter of five children in a well-off family. Aged three, the family moved to Stockholm where they purchased Årsta Castle, some 20 miles from the capital, as a place to spend the summers. Along with her sisters, she was tutored privately, taught to cook and manage a house, and enjoyed family journeys in Europe. A gifted linguist and talented miniaturist she was also considered an awkward and rebellious child. Biographies note, for example, that she struggled with her constricted, secluded existence, and that diary entries from 1822 to 1823 reveal her impatience: ‘How stagnant, like a muddy pool, is time to youth dragging on a dull and inactive life . . . I am only twenty-two, and yet I am often tired of the world and wish I were taken from it. But then, we do lead a very dull life.’

Bremer found some fulfilment in charity work around the castle estate; and she took up writing - her work being published anonymously - to raise funds to help the cottagers. Eventually, however, once her writing had become popular, she revealed her identity, and she won an award from the Swedish Academy. Her father died in 1830, and thereafter she felt less constrained by family mores. She went to live with a friend - Countess Stina Sommerheilm - in Norway for some years. She wrote and published several novels - her 1837 masterpiece, The Neighbors, being inspired by the countess’s tales of an elderly relative. Partly thanks to translations by Mary Howitt, the novels brought her international fame. In 1849, she travelled to America, touring the Atlantic Coast and Deep South, intent on studying the social and political conditions as they applied to women. She met many eminent American writers, and letters she wrote at length to her younger sister were later published.   

Following her return to Sweden, Bremer co-founded the Stockholm Women’s Society for Children’s Care, to assist the orphans left by a cholera outbreak in 1853, and the Women’s Society for the Betterment of Prisoners to provide moral guidance and rehabilitation of female inmates. In mid-1854, the London Times published her “Invitation to a Peace Alliance” alongside an editorial rebuke of its pacifist appeal to Christian women. In the latter years of her life, she continued to make appeals to society for money to benefit various charitable institutions. She lived to see Sweden pass a law that unmarried women could attain their majority at 25 years of age, and she experienced the introduction in Stockholm of a seminary for the education of female teachers. From 1856, she spent five years on the Continent and in Palestine, thereafter publishing an account of her travels in several volumes. She died in late 1865. Further information is available from the Fredrika Bremer website, Wikipedia and

Bremer seems to have kept a diary during different periods of her life. Some early diary entries can be found in Life, Letters, and Posthumous Works of Fredrika Bremer, edited by her sister, Charlotte Bremer - available online at Internet Archive. But a more substantial diary written later in her life -  during an unidentified year in fact - is contained in A Diary, The H___ Family, Axel and Anna, and Other Tales as translated by Howitt (also available at Internet Archive). The style is quite chatty; many of the entries are pages long and include long passages of dialogue. The following extracts are from the fourth edition published by George Bell & Sons in 1892. 

1 November 18__
‘Another day, another revolution of light and shade. Enjoy thy existence, sayest thou, holy dawn of morning, animating glance of love, beam of God! Thou wakest me once more from my darkness, givest me a day, a new existence, a little life. Thou lookest upon me in this light and sayest, follow the moments! They scatter in their flight, light and flowers; they conceal themselves in clouds, but only to shine forth again all the lovelier; follow them, and let not the shade find thee before thou hast begun to live!

Thus thought I with a great, home-departed spirit, as in the dawn of morning I awoke and saw the beam of daylight penetrating into my chamber, and involuntarily stretched forth my arms to meet it. It was neither bright nor cheerful ; it was the misty beam of a November day, but still light from the light which brightened my life’s-day, and I greeted it with love. . .’

14 December 18__
‘We have passed some weeks in visiting the collections of works of art, academies, and various other public institutions of the capital. To many of these I shall often again return, for many of them have had great interest for me. And wherein indeed lies the worth of a solid education, if it does not enable us to understand and value every species of useful human activity, and open our eyes to life in all its affluence. It offers us also an extended life. I remarked too with pleasure, how willingly scientific men turn themselves to those in whom they perceive a real interest, and where they feel that they are understood.

Lennartson, who was our conductor in these visits, by his own great knowledge and by the art of inducing others to unfold theirs, increased our pleasure in the highest degree. And how highly esteemed and valued is he by all. Flora listened attentively to him, but seldom to any one else, and betrayed quite too great a desire to shine herself. Selma belongs to those who say little themselves, but who understand much, and conceal much in their hearts. Lennartson and I listen attentively to all her remarks. They always contain something exciting, and often something suggestive. She has a beautiful and pure judgment. A good head, together with a good heart, is a glorious thing in a human being.

Now it is necessary to sit still; to be industrious, and to finish Christmas knick-knacks in ten days. It is not my affair.’

1 January 18__
‘A bouquet of fresh flowers, and a cordial hand-pressure from the Viking - is the glad impression which I have derived from the forenoon visits.

In the Evening. Ready-dressed for the Exchange Ball, in black, with lace; pearls in my hair, on my neck and arms.

Be quiet, Selma, dear! Thou shouldst not make me vain! Thou shouldst not mislead thy elder sister.

Flora goes with “the Beauty” to the Exchange, and makes her toilet with her. I am not in good spirits, and I fancy that I shall have no pleasure. But still, however, a quiet observer need not experience any annoyance, when she herself will not play any part. It is now more than ten years since I saw the world in a New-Year’s Assembly in Stockholm. How will it now appear to me? “Allons et voyons!” ’

11 January 18__
‘St. Orme comes hither sometimes early in the morning, and desires to speak alone with my stepmother. She always looks disturbed at this; and when she returns from these conferences, she is always annoyed and uneasy till some new impression removes this. I suspect that their private conversations have reference to money which St. Orme borrows. May the good-nature of my stepmother not bring her into embarrassment. I have heard that which is bad spoken of St. Orme’s affairs, of his life and connexions. Felix also may be misled by St. Orme’s sophisms, and by the example of his friends, the Rutschenfelts, into evil ways. I have spoken with Brenner of my suspicions respecting St. Orme; but the Viking takes the field for him, and is, since his residence in Paris, under obligations to him, which makes him unwilling to believe anything bad of him.’

13 January 18__
‘My bad suspicions have their entirely good, or I will say, bad foundation. Hellfrid Eittersvärd wrote a note to Selma this morning, wherein she asked a loan of fifty rix-dollars. She needed this sum to pay the pension of her youngest brother, and would be able to repay it in two months. With eyes flashing with desire to gratify Hellfrid’s wish, Selma showed the letter to her mother, and prayed her to advance the desired sum, which she had not now herself.

“With infinite pleasure, my beloved child!” exclaimed my stepmother, who is always ready to give; hastened to her writing-desk, and opened the drawer where she usually keeps money; but suddenly she appeared to recollect something, and turned pale. She took out a purse, which a few days before was full of heavy silver-pieces, put in her hand instinctively, but drew out merely a few rix-dollars. A painful confusion painted itself on her countenance, as she said, almost stammering, “Ah! I have not - I cannot now! St. Orme has borrowed all my money. He promised to bring it me back again in a few days, but - in the mean time - how shall we manage it?”

My stepmother had tears in her eyes; and her troubled appearance, her pale cheeks - I sprang immediately up to my chamber, and came down again quickly with a few canary-birds (so my stepmother and Selma, in their merry way, call the large yellow bank-bills; whilst the others, just according to their look and their value, have the names of other birds).

Selma embraced me, and danced for joy at the sight of the yellow notes. But my stepmother took them with a kind of embarrassment - a dissatisfied condescension, which somewhat grieved me. She promised that I should soon receive back the bills. And if I “must borrow from her, I might be sure that,” and so on.

Her coldness cooled me. In the mean time we governed the state together in the afternoon, and handled “the system,” and other important things, I will not venture to say exactly according to what system if not — according to the system of confusion. My thoughts were in another direction. They followed Felix and Selma. He seemed to wish to speak to her alone, and she seemed on the contrary to wish to avoid him, in which also she succeeded.’

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Death of a bandit

Walter Scott, one of Britain’s greatest writers and the first to gain international celebrity status, was born a quarter of a millennium ago today. His novels - such as Ivanhoe - and poetry are still widely read today, but his diaries, though still in print and considered by some to be a ‘superb work’, are less well known. They cover only the last years of his life. In the very first entry, Scott explains how he came to be inspired to start writing a journal; and, in another entry, a few months before his death, the adventure writer in him is anxious to record details he has heard about a notorious bandit.

Scott was born in Edinburgh on 15 August 1771; but, when only 18 months old, he contracted polio, which left him lame for the rest of his life. He trained as a lawyer, like his father, but without much commitment. He did work in his father’s office for a while, but preferred to travel, and to read. In 1797, he married Margaret Charlotte Carpenter, from a French Royalist family, even though he knew very little about her. They lived happily to her death, a few years before his own, and had four children. Also in 1797, Scott first volunteered for the Royal Edinburgh light dragoons, and acted as its secretary and quartermaster.

Scott’s career in writing began with translations of German Gothic romances; he then produced his own ballads, such as The Lay of the Last Minstrel and The Lady of the Lake, which proved immensely popular. He also worked on new editions of writings by Dryden and Swift. In the 1810s, Scott turned to novels, and found a new level of success with, what became known as, his Waverley novels, including Rob Roy and Ivanhoe among many others. However, these novels were published anonymously, and though some reviewers were identifying him as the author from the first, he continued denying the fact until 1827.

The income from his popular novels gave Scott the wherewithal to build a mansion in the Scottish borders, 35 miles southeast of Edinburgh, which he called Abbotsford. By 1820, when he was knighted, Scott was a celebrity and important public figure. He organised the visit of King George IV to Scotland in 1822. He helped created the Edinburgh Academy. He was chairman of the Edinburgh Oil Gas Company in 1824, was a governor of the Scottish Union, and an extraordinary director of the Edinburgh Life Assurance Company.

In 1826, though, his world collapsed with one of the worst financial crises of the century. The financial burden of Abbotsford, and the bankruptcies of his publisher and printer, left Scott in financial ruin. Rather than declaring bankruptcy himself, he worked hard for the rest of his life to repay his debts - to the detriment, some say, of his later novels, which were, in modern parlance, churned out. He died in 1832, having cleared around three-quarters of his debt (the rest was partly repaid through the sale of his copyrights). Almost all newspapers - according to his biographer J. G. Lockhart - ‘had the signs of mourning usual on the demise of a king’. Further biographical information is available at Edinburgh University’s Walter Scott Digital Archive and Wikipedia.

In 1837-1838, Lockhart, who married Scott’s daughter Sophia and was editor of the Quarterly Review, published the seven volume Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott. He was only able to write the lengthy, and much respected, biography because he had inherited the rights to all of Scott’s literary remains, including a wealth of letters and two volumes of a diary which Scott wrote from 1825 until his death. Lockhart explained, in the biography, he could not use the diary as freely as he might have wished ‘by regard for the feelings of living persons’. It was not until 1890, that the full diary manuscript was published, by David Douglas in two volumes, as The Journal of Sir Walter Scott.

David Hewitt writing Scott’s entry for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography says of the journal: ‘[Scott] is endlessly interesting; he records what he had been doing; he comments acutely on what goes on around him; he works out intellectual positions; he analyses himself; he lays himself out on the page. The Journal is a superb work, but its greatness is ultimately due to an accident of timing. It opens with Scott at the height of his fame and prosperity. Within six months he was ruined and his wife was dead. He undertook to repay all his debts, and the Journal records how a heroic decision to do right and to act well gradually destroyed him mentally and physically.’

An 1890 set of both volumes can be bought from Abebooks for as little as £30; and there are many more modern reprints available. The text of the 1890 version is also freely available at Internet Archive (as is Lockhart’s biography).

Here are two extracts: the very first entry in Scott’s journal; and one of the last entries, written a few months before his death (which seems an appropriate extract to use, given Scott’s legacy as one of the world great writers of adventure stories).

20 November 1825
‘I have all my life regretted that I did not keep a regular Journal. I have myself lost recollection of much that was interesting, and I have deprived my family and the public of some curious information, by not carrying this resolution into effect. I have bethought me, on seeing lately some volumes of Byron’s notes, that he probably had hit upon the right way of keeping such a memorandum-book, by throwing aside all pretence to regularity and order, and marking down events just as they occurred to recollection. I will try this plan; and behold I have a handsome locked volume, such as might serve for a lady’s album. Nota bene, John Lockhart, and Anne, and I are to raise a Society for the suppression of Albums. It is a most troublesome shape of mendicity. Sir, your autograph, a line of poetry, or a prose sentence! Among all the sprawling sonnets, and blotted trumpery that dishonours these miscellanies, a man must have a good stomach that can swallow this botheration as a compliment.’

15 April 1832
‘Naples. I am on the eve of leaving Naples after a residence of three or four months, my strength strongly returning, though the weather has been very uncertain. What with the interruption occasioned by the cholera and other inconveniences, I have not done much. I have sent home only the letters by L. L. Stuart and three volumes of the Siege of Malta. I sent them by Lord Cowper’s son Mr. Cowper returning, his leave being out and two chests of books by the Messrs. Turner, Malta, who are to put them on board a vessel, to be forwarded to Mr. Cadell through “Whittaker. I have hopes they will come to hand safe. I have bought a small closing carriage, warranted new and English, cost me 200, for the convenience of returning home. It carries Anne, Charles, and the two servants, and we start to-morrow morning for Home, after which we shall be starting homeward, for the Greek scheme is blown up, as Sir Frederick Adam is said to be going to Madras, so he will be unable to send a frigate as promised. I have spent on the expenses of medical persons and books, etc., a large sum, yet not excessive.

Meantime we [may] have to add a curious journey of it. The brigands, of whom there are so many stories, are afloat once more, and many carriages stopped. A curious and popular work would be a history of these ruffians. Washington Irving has attempted something of the kind, but the person attempting this should be an Italian, perfectly acquainted with his country, character, and manners. Mr. R , an apothecary, told me a singular [occurrence] which happened in Calabria about six years ago, and which I may set down just now as coming from a respectable authority, though I do not [vouch it].

This man was called, from his wily but inexorable temper, Il Bizarro, i.e. the Bizar. He was captain of a gang of banditti, whom he governed by his own authority, till he increased them to 1,000 men, both on foot and horseback, whom he maintained in the mountains of Calabria, between the French and Neapolitans, both of which he defied, and pillaged the country. High rewards were set upon his head, to very little purpose, as he took care to guard himself against being betrayed by his own gang, the common fate of those banditti who become great in their vocation. At length a French colonel, whose name I have forgot, occupied the country of Bizarro, with such success that he formed a cordon around him and his party, and included him between the folds of a military column.

Well-nigh driven to submit himself, the robber with his wife, a very handsome woman, and a child of a few months old, took a position beneath the arch of an old bridge, and, by an escape almost miraculous, were not perceived by a strong party whom the French maintained on the top of the arch. Night at length came without a discovery, which every moment might have made. When it became quite dark, the brigand, enjoining strictest silence on the female and child, resolved to steal from his place of shelter, and as they issued forth, kept his hand on the child’s throat. But as, when they began to move, the child naturally cried, its father in a rage stiffened his grip so relentlessly that the poor infant never offended more in the same manner. This horrid [act] led to the conclusion of the robber’s life.

His wife had never been very fond of him, though he trusted her more than any who approached him. She had been originally the wife of another man, murdered by her second husband, which second marriage she was compelled to undergo, and to affect at least the conduct of an affectionate wife. In their wanderings she alone knew where he slept for the night. He left his men in a body upon the top of an open hill, round which they set watches. He then went apart into the woods with his wife, and having chosen a glen an obscure and deep thicket of the woods, there took up his residence for the night. A large Calabrian sheepdog, his constant attendant, was then tied to a tree at some distance to secure his slumbers, and having placed his carabine within reach of his lair, he consigned himself to such sleep as belongs to his calling. By such precautions he had secured his rest for many years.

But after the death of the child, the measure of his offence towards the unhappy mother was full to the brim, and her thoughts became determined on revenge. One evening he took up his quarters for the night with these precautions, but without the usual success. He had laid his carabine near him, and betaken himself to rest as usual, when his partner arose from his side, and ere he became sensible she had done so, she seized [his carabine], and discharging [it] in his bosom, ended at once his life and crimes.

She finished her work by cutting off the brigand’s head, and carrying it to the principal town of the province, where she delivered it to the police, and claimed the reward attached to his head, which was paid accordingly. This female still lives, a stately, dangerous-looking woman, yet scarce ill thought of, considering the provocation. The dog struggled extremely to get loose on hearing the shot. Some say the female shot it; others that, in its rage, it very nearly gnawed through the stout young tree to which it was tied. He was worthy of a better master. The distant encampment of the band was disturbed by the firing of the Bizarro’s carabine at midnight. They ran through the woods to seek the captain, but finding him lifeless and headless, they became so much surprised that many of them surrendered to the government, and relinquished their trade, and the band of Bizarro, as it lived by his ingenuity, broke up by his death.

A story is told nearly as horrible as the above, respecting the cruelty of this bandit, which seems to entitle him to be called one of the most odious wretches of his name. A French officer, who had been active in the pursuit of him, fell into his hands, and was made to die [the death] of Marsyas or Saint Polycarp that is, the period being the middle of summer, he was flayed alive, and, being smeared with honey, was exposed to all the intolerable insects of a southern sky. The corps were also informed where they might find their officer if they thought proper to send for him. As more than two days elapsed before the wretched man was found, nothing save his miserable relics could be discovered.

I do not warrant these stories, but such are told currently.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 15 August 2011.

Friday, August 6, 2021

He came to us starke naked

‘As we were setting out early this morning by breake of day, we were overtaken by our Turke Merchant who was robbed of his 3 mules’ lading of goods near Nisibeen; he came to us starke naked, with one person more in ye like condition, having been robbed of his horse and stripped to his skin by 12 Arab horsemen.’ This is from a diary kept by William Hedges during his term as the first governor of the East India Company in Bengal, and, having been sacked from that job, during the long land journey home across Asia. Once back in London, he was knighted by the King, and he went on to hold various important administrative posts, not least master of the Mercers’ Company.

Hedges was born in Coole, County Cork, Ireland, the eldest son in a family with roots in Wiltshire. Little is known of his early life and career, though he went to Turkey as a trader for the Levant Company. After being posted to a trading station (or factory) in Smyrna, he rose to the position of company treasurer in Constantinople. He returned to England in 1670 or 1671. In London, he joined the Mercers’ Company; and, he invested £500 in the recently reformed Royal African Company. He served two stints as a Levant Company assistant. From 1677 to 1680, he was a councilman for his local ward of Bassishaw. He married Susanna Vanacker who bore him three children, though she died giving birth to the third in 1683.

In 1681, Hedges joined Jeremy Sambrooke, his brother-in-law, as a member of the directing board of the East India Company. Later that year, he was chosen as the company’s agent for its factories in the Bay of Bengal. He arrived there in mid-1682, taking up residence in Hoogly. He did not make a success of the commission, however, and it was revoked in late 1683. He spent two or three years returning to England overland, by way of Persia. Within months of his return Hedges married for a second time (Anna who bore him two further sons). He was knighted by King James II, appointed to the London lieutenancy commission, and chosen master of the Mercers’ Company. After the revolution of 1688 he remained on the London lieutenancy commission, also serving as colonel of a trained band regiment and on the Middlesex lieutenancy commission. 

In 1693, Hedges was chosen for the London shrievalty; he was also appointed alderman for the ward of Portsoken, remaining in that office until his death. In 1694, when the subscription for the Bank of England was opened, he made an investment of £4,000 and was chosen a director, continuing in that capacity until 1700. By that time, he had also renewed his investments in the East India Company (from which he had withdrawn after his Bengal experience). When the two East India Companies made efforts to co-operate in trade in 1699, Hedges was appointed by the ‘old’ company as one of its representatives for dealing with agents of its new counterpart. He also served as master of the Mercers’ Company for a second time in 1700. He died on 6 August 1701. Further information is available from Wikipedia or the 1885-1900 version of the Dictionary of National Biography.

A manuscript diary kept by Hedges from 1681 to 1688 was found - nearly 200 years after it was written - in a Canterbury bookshop by R. Barlow in 1875. It was subsequently edited by Henry Yule and published by the Hakluyt Society in 1887 as The Diary of William Hedges, Esq. (afterwards Sir William Green) during his agency in Bengal; as well as on his voyage out and return overland (1681-1687). This can be read freely online at Internet Archive, or at Googlebooks. Here are several samples from the published diary.

1 July 1683
‘The Ship Britania, ,belongmg to Mr Dowglass, &ca, from ye Maldiva Islands, arrived before ye Factory, bringing advice of ye Charles (a Ship belonging to ye Hon Company) arrivall there: and that at their first going ashore, their first salutation from ye Natives was a shower of Stones and 

Arrows, whereby 6 of their Men were wounded, which made them immediately return on board, and by ye Mouths of their Guns forced them to a complyance, and permission to load what Cowries they would at Markett Price: so that in a few dayes time they sett sayle from thence for Surrat with above 60 Tunn of Cowryes.’

8 March 1685
‘Last night it blew hard at N.E., with violent gusts of Wind and raine. We stood off to E. and S.E. till 3 in ye morning, when seeing ourselves again driven near ye Islands with ye force of ye Current, we tacked, and stood N. b. E. and N.N.E., the wind at that very instant favouring of us. We fired 2 Guns and showed two lights (as by agreement), to give our Consort notice of our Tacking: it seems he did not thinke convenient to follow our example, being 4 or 6 leagues asterne of us in ye morning by daylight. We stood on, and made what saile we could, steering North. About 10 this moniing we lost sight of the Syam Merchant. The Wind blew very fresh at East; and seeing divers Islands ahead of us, which we could not weather, and those to Westward standing very open and stragling, not much nearer (in my opinion) than those in ye Archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea, our Captain asked my Councill what course he were best to steer. 

I advised him (in the name of God) to venture through, and so bore up, steering due West, when we saw the openest passage, having a Man always standing at ye Main Top mast head to direct and con us ye broadest way. By Noon we judged ourselves at least 12 miles within ye Islands. The Latitude by Observation, 6° 40’ North.’

9 March 1685
‘Yesterday, in ye Afternoon, we sailed neer divers fine, green, pleasant Islands, full of Coco-nutt and other trees; and finding fine, white, gravelly, clean ground between them at 16,18, and 20 fathoms, thought good (to prevent greater danger in passing in ye night) to drop Anchor, which we did neer one of them, where we saw two boats going into harbour. 

We putt out a peece of a Red Ancient, to appear like a Moor’s Vessell, not judging it safe to be known to be English, our Nation having lately gott an ill name by abusing ye Inhabitants of these Islands; but no boat would come neer us, though divers rowed and sailed by at a distance to view and make what discovery they could of us.

At the West end of this Island was a Point of Sand and Rocks, which ran out neer halfe a mile, with ye Sea breaking upon it, & so had most of ye other Islands to ye Westward. About 4 or 5 miles to N. Westward of this Island I saw with my Telliscope a Parcell of 15 or 16 houses upon a Sand, which seemed 5 or 6 miles long. The sea broke very high upon it. 

This Morning early (no boat coming off to us) we weighed anchor, and perceiving ye fairest Channel lay N.E., steered due North East for some time, and afterwards North, Having gott ye Island under which we anchored aaterne, 5 boats putt off from ye North End; 3 of them ran ahead of us, sailing very swiftly; [from] the other two, after great ceremony and caution (all our Europeans hiding themselves except ye Captain, [and] the Mogulls, who were passengers, and Blackmen, only appearing in sight), divers of them came aboard, one of which (having a finer Clout than ordinary about him, and a pretty, neat knife at his Girdle) was a Governor’s Son of one of these Islands. 

Our Captain telling him there was a person aboard who could speak Arabick, he desired to see him. Notice being given me, I came out of ye Roundhouse, and saluted him in Arabick; to which, not returning a ready and proper Answer, I found he spoke so little of ye Language that no Discourse was to be held with him, so applyed myselfe to a Portuguese mariner who spoke Indostan (ye current language of all these Islands), to which he returned me evasive and unsatisfactory answers, bending his whole discourse to advise our anchoring near his Island this night, & then he would bring us off Wood, Water, and Hens, as much and as many as we should desire. All that I could get of information from him (shewing him ye Compasse) was that, after we had passed those sands and rocks now in sight of us, there was a fair Channel before us to ye North West; and that if we would stay this night, to-morrow morning he would send a Pilott and Boats to sail before us out of the Islands. But the Wind coming up a fine fresh Gale at S.E., I presented the young Governor’s Son with a fine Amber handled knife and a bag of Rice, and told him I was resolved to make no further delay, but to make ye best of our way and detayne him no longer; upon which they all got overboard immediately into their boat, seeming to be afraide we should detayne them by force. 

Amongst other Questions, I asked them whether they remembered in what part of these Islands a great English Shippe was cast away about 15 or 16 yeares since. He told me it was upon ye great Sand where I saw the Houses, which were Magazines for ye Cowries that were taken for ye King. These Islands are so full of Inhabitants and boats, that we thought this the chief place from whence the King gets all (or greatest part) of his Cowrees.’

15 June 1686
‘As we were setting out early this morning by breake of day, we were overtaken by our Turke Merchant who was robbed of his 3 mules’ lading of goods near Nisibeen; he came to us starke naked, with one person more in ye like condition, having been robbed of his horse and stripped to his skin by 12 Arab horsemen, which he counted, and believes them more, who told him they came thither on purpose to surprize and set upon me as I was rising, but, meeting with him in ye very nick of time, lost their opportunity to put their intended designe into execution, being informed by their Spie that I was mounted and following the caravan in so good order that they durst not adventure to assault me: so mercifully has it pleased God to shew himselfe in preferring me this second time. For both deliverances I beseech him to make me truly thankful.’